The effects of suppressing trauma-related thoughts on women with rape-related posttraumatic stress disorder


A hallmark symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the presence of intrusive thoughts that come to mind against an individual's will and are frequently accompanied by considerable distress. This investigation examined the effects of deliberate suppression of rape-related thoughts on female sexual assault survivors, in order to explore this facet of PTSD. Seventeen women with chronic PTSD following a sexual assault were contrasted with nineteen survivors without PTSD, using a thought suppression paradigm (e.g. [ Paradoxical effects of thought suppression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53 5-13]). Results indicated that PTSD participants experienced a rebound in the frequency of rape-related thoughts following deliberate suppression, whereas non-PTSD participants did not experience a rebound. Reported level of perceived controllability over rape-related thoughts for the PTSD participants was significantly lower during the suppression phase (as compared with the expression phase) relative to the non-PTSD participants. PTSD participants were significantly more anxious, depressed and distressed throughout the procedure relative to non-PTSD participants, although mood changes did not parallel the rebound effect found with rape-related thoughts in the PTSD group. Results are discussed in light of the role that intrusive thoughts may play in the maintenance of PTSD. Copyright (C) 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd.

Publication Title

Behaviour Research and Therapy