The Role of Alexithymia in Trauma Therapy Outcome: Examining Improvements in PTSD, Dissociation, and Interpersonal Problems
Zorzella, Karina De Paula Moura
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Alexithymia is a personality trait that reflects deficits in the cognitive processing and regulation of emotion (Taylor & Bagby, 2012). It has been closely linked to childhood trauma and reported by individuals presenting with other trauma-related conditions such as PTSD, dissociation, and interpersonal problems (Powers et al., 2015). Addressing the emotional deficits associated with alexithymia is fundamental to resolving issues of childhood trauma and therefore, is at the core of many trauma therapy models (Herman, 1992; Cloitre, Koenen, Cohen, & Han, 2002). The current study aims to build upon this foundation by examining the role of alexithymia in the presentations of treatment-seeking women with histories of child abuse, prior to and following trauma therapy. It will also examine the relationship between alexithymia and emotion regulation and between alexithymia and PTSD, dissociation, and interpersonal problems. Data were collected from 167 participants, 51 of which completed an 8-week, stage-one, day treatment program utilizing primarily group therapy for women with histories of severe childhood abuse. Results indicated a significant association between improvement in alexithymia and improvement in PTSD, dissociation, and interpersonal problems. Findings also suggested that alexithymia and emotion regulation difficulties overlap with respect to difficulty understanding feelings. The important clinical implications of attending to the deficits and issues related to alexithymia at initial stages of therapy with survivors of childhood abuse will be discussed.