More than half of female survivors of rape report
symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Previous research has
found that not all survivors respond to traditional treatments for
PTSD, causing their symptoms to resurface over time.
a researcher at the University of Missouri School of Medicine,
says that photovoice interventions, where participants express their
thoughts and feelings through photos, combined with traditional PTSD
treatments, could result in a more complete recovery for survivors of
‘Photovoice intervention combined with traditional post-traumatic stress disorder treatments could result in a more complete recovery for survivors of sexual assault.’
"Photovoice gives vulnerable populations an alternative way to
express themselves, allowing survivors to use photographs to help convey
their thoughts and feelings," Rolbiecki said. "Participants took photos
that represented their strengths, weaknesses, triggers and their
processes of obtaining justice. The intervention allowed participants to
gently expose themselves to their triggers and discuss their thoughts
and feelings about their experience in a safe and supportive
Rolbiecki said that current PTSD treatments are designed to help
survivors manage their anxiety when confronting triggers, but offer
little support at addressing the powerlessness survivors may feel as a
result of their experience.
"The typical approaches to treating PTSD are not specifically
designed to foster post traumatic growth and empowerment for survivors,"
Rolbiecki said. "These approaches rarely provide an opportunity for
survivors to rewrite their story and make meaning of their experiences,
which is important and necessary for growth."
In the study, Rolbiecki recruited nine women who had experienced a
sexual assault at any time in their lives. Each woman was given a camera
and instructed to take photos that captured her experience with sexual
assault and recovery. The women met weekly as group to discuss their
pictures. After group discussions were complete, the participants worked
together to plan an invitation-only photography exhibit to educate
others about sexual assault and sexual assault policies. Rolbiecki
interviewed each participant after the exhibits to further discuss their
experience with photovoice as a therapeutic intervention.
Rolbiecki said that after the intervention was complete, the
participants reported decreases in PTSD symptoms and self-blame, and
increases in their post traumatic growth, particularly with their
"Survivors of sexual assaults are often identified by society as
victims," Rolbiecki said. "Photovoice allows participants to redefine
themselves despite their victimization. Through this tool, survivors can
share their story with complete control of how it is told; allowing
them to re-enter the world with a story solely authored by themselves."
Rolbiecki said that results from her study show that photovoice has
therapeutic implications, especially in terms of treating trauma through
creating and critically discussing photo narratives.
Rolbiecki is a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Family and
Community Medicine. She previously worked at the University of
Missouri's Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center.
Rolbiecki's study, "Waiting for the Cold to End:' Using Photovoice
as a Narrative Intervention for Survivors of Sexual Assault," recently
was published in Traumatology
, an international journal for
health professionals who study and treat people exposed to highly
stressful and traumatic events.