Background. Although much research has focused on mechanisms of traumatization and factors related to post-trauma psychological functioning in survivors of trauma, there have been few studies of survivors of torture despite the widespread practice of torture in the world. The aim of this study was to examine the role of ‘psychological preparedness’ for trauma in post-traumatic stress responses in survivors of torture.
Method. Thirty-four torture survivors who had no history of political activity, commitment to a political cause or group, or expectations of arrest and torture were compared with 55 tortured political activists, using structured interviews and measures of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Results. Compared with tortured political activists, tortured non-activists were subject to relatively less severe torture but showed higher levels of psychopathology. Less psychological preparedness related to greater perceived distress during torture and more severe psychological problems, explaining 4% of the variance in general psychopathology and 9% of the variance in post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
Conclusions. The study findings lend support to the role of prior immunization to traumatic stress and to unpredictability and uncontrollability of stressors in the effects of traumatization. Further research aimed at identifying the behavioural and cognitive components of psychological preparedness that play a role in traumatization may provide useful insights into effective treatment strategies for survivors of torture.
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