Psychological therapy reduces depression in women who have experienced domestic violence

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Combined evidence from 33 clinical trials shows that psychological therapy may benefit the mental health of women who have experienced domestic violence. There was no evidence of harm.

Read the review


Psychological therapy for women who experience intimate partner violence “probably” reduces their depression, according to a systematic review of 33 clinical trials. In a Cochrane Review like this one, “probably” is used to describe evidence of moderate, rather than high, certainty.

Healthcare practitioners use Cochrane Reviews to make decisions about which treatments to provide.

The review also found that psychological therapy “may” reduce women’s anxiety following intimate partner violence. This means the evidence is of low certainty.

The Cochrane Review was led by Professor Kelsey Hegarty and Dr Mohajer Hameed from the University of Melbourne. They are both at the Centre of Research Excellence for Safer Families.

Intimate partner violence includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse and controlling behaviour by a partner or ex-partner. Almost one-third of women who have been in a relationship have experienced intimate partner violence. It can cause long-lasting mental and physical health problems.

Women who have experienced intimate partner violence are often encouraged to seek psychological therapy. However, it was not clear whether psychological therapies are safe and effective in the context of intimate partner violence.

The 33 trials that were studied involved 5517 women who had experienced intimate partner violence. In most trials, the women received psychological therapy face-to-face. The therapy was provided by social workers, nurses, psychologists, community health workers, family doctors, or researchers. The type of therapy and the length of treatment varied. The trials followed up with the women months or even years later to assess the effects of the therapy.

By combining the results of similar trials, the researchers could make discoveries that are not possible in smaller, individual trials.

Some of the 33 trials tried to find out whether psychological therapy also improved other parts of the women’s lives. For example, were women more likely to make plans to feel safer from domestic violence? Did their confidence levels increase? Did they seek more support or healthcare? However, the Cochrane Review concluded that there is not enough evidence to answer those questions.

Cochrane Reviews are rigorous systematic reviews of medical studies. They collect and analyse the most up-to-date and reliable data on medical procedures and treatments.

Next steps

Using this evidence, the researchers are developing models for how domestic violence can be addressed in general practice, hospitals and mental health settings.

Funding

NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence (1116690) – Safer Families: Tailoring early identification and novel interventions for intimate partner violence

Publication

Hameed M et al (2020) Psychological therapies for women who experience intimate partner violence. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 7: CD013017. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD013017.pub2

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