Date Approved

4-28-2014

Date Posted

7-28-2014

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Committee Member

Tamara Loverich, Ph.D., Chair

Committee Member

Michelle Byrd, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Natalie Dove, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ellen Koch, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Katherine Porter, Ph.D.

Abstract

Military Sexual Trauma (MST) as defined in United States Public Law, refers to inappropriate sexual conduct, assault, or harassment experienced by a military service member during his or her course of active duty or active duty for training (38 U.S.C. § 1720D). MST has emerged as a distinct form of trauma, resulting in different and often more severe sequelae than other forms of civilian sexual assault and/or non-sexual trauma. This study sought to explore the potential moderating and mediating roles of experiential avoidance on the relationship between MST and health outcomes in an attempt to identify a unifying mechanism through which poor outcomes were more likely to emerge or become amplified. Participants included 65 female veterans seeking treatment through the women’s health clinic located within the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System (VAAAHS). Eligible participants completed a series of questionnaires assessing for the presence of trauma exposure, including MST, experiential avoidance, and potential outcomes such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, physical health concerns, and engagement in excessive/problem behaviors. Within this sample, 29.2% of respondents endorsed exposure to MST. Subsequent mediation and moderation analyses were computed and it was determined that experiential avoidance partially mediated the relationship between MST exposure and PTSD symptomatology. Furthermore, levels of experiential avoidance, PTSD, anxiety, and physical health concerns varied as a result of trauma exposure type (i.e., MST, civilian sexual assault/childhood sexual abuse, or non-sexual trauma). These findings support the hypothesis that MST exposure is associated with poorer post-trauma functioning across a variety of symptoms measures. Furthermore, the findings suggest that the presence of experiential avoidance may impact post-trauma functionality. Implications for the treatment of MST are discussed.

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