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Negative posttraumatic cognitions among military sexual trauma survivors



Unique aspects of military sexual trauma (MST) may result in specific maladaptive cognitions among survivors. Understanding which posttraumatic cognitions are particularly strong among MST survivors could help clinicians target and improve treatment for these individuals. This study explored the impact of experiencing MST on posttraumatic cognitions among veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


Veterans enrolled in an Intensive Outpatient Program for PTSD (N = 226) were assessed for MST, PTSD severity, depression severity, and posttraumatic cognitions as part of a standard clinical intake. Multivariate analyses examined differences in posttraumatic cognitions between veterans who did and did not experience MST.


MST survivors (n = 88) endorsed significantly stronger posttraumatic cognitions related to self-blame compared to non-MST counterparts (n = 138), even when accounting for current symptom severity. Specifically, MST predicted the following cognitions: "The event happened to me because of the sort of person I am," "Somebody else would have stopped the event from happening," "Somebody else would not have gotten into this situation," and "There is something about me that made the event happen," after controlling for severity of PTSD and depression.


Study population was a treatment-seeking sample of veterans diagnosed with PTSD from a non-VA clinic. Veterans in MST group endorsed either sexual harassment, sexual assault, or both. Sample size of males who endorsed MST (n = 21) may be too small to generalize to all males.


Beliefs related to self-blame may be important treatment targets for MST survivors.

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