Improving human reactivity to trauma exposure using affect labeling
Background: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is of tremendous public health significance given high prevalence rates, chronicity, and resulting functional impairment. While a number of empirically-supported treatments have been developed, these treatments are not widely available, nor are they universally efficacious. The current studies translate a traditional assessment technique, Script-Driven Imagery, into a computerized training for individuals with elevated trauma reactivity. This imaginal-exposure based training was supplemented with Affect Labeling to determine whether inhibitory learning was enhanced with this augmentation strategy. Methods: Participants (n=107) were college students and community members who were recruited for two studies. The first compared augmentation Task (Affect Labeling vs. a control task, Shape Labeling) and Order of Task (During vs. After labeling) on physiological and self-report outcomes at Pre- and Post-Training. The second compared Condition (Affect Labeling vs. a control active task, Distraction Labeling vs. a control inactive task, Exposure Only) on Pre- to Post-Training changes in physiological and self-report measures.
Results: The trainings provided in both studies were effective at reducing self-reported distress and physiological activation from Pre- to Post-Training, though there were no consistent differences based on Condition. There was some evidence that Labeling (including Affect and Distract Labeling) conferred a benefit over No Labeling.
Conclusions: This study provides initial support for the acceptability and efficacy of this independently-operated computerized training for PTSD. Clinical implications and future directions are discussed.