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Group psychotherapy for trauma‐related disorders in people with intellectual disabilities

Nancy J. Razza (The Elizabeth M. Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities, UMDNJ, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA)
Daniel J. Tomasulo (New Jersey City University, Jersey City, New Jersey, USA)
Dick Sobsey (University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada)

Advances in Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities

ISSN: 2044-1282

Article publication date: 16 September 2011




The purpose of this paper is threefold: to summarize data on rates of sexual abuse and interpersonal trauma in people with intellectual disability (ID); to demonstrate the relationship between such trauma and psychological distress; and to describe a promising treatment technique for such exposed individuals.


A review of the literature on rates of abuse and trauma among people with ID is presented with particular attention paid to the role of developmental level in both the experience and impact of trauma. Drawing from this understanding of the phenomenology of traumatic exposure in people with ID, the authors present a theoretical framework for psychotherapeutic intervention.


This paper establishes the inverse relationship between the higher‐than‐average rates of trauma and interpersonal violence in the ID population, co‐occurring with lower‐than‐average access to treatment, and lower‐than‐average treatment model development for this population. Further, this paper provides a description of a theoretically based therapeutic intervention with preliminary research efficacy.

Practical implications

This paper documents three key areas in need of attention in order to reduce the suffering of people with ID: the need to address the high rates of exposure to abuse; the importance of taking into account developmental level when assessing the impact of potentially traumatic experiences; and the efficacy of the interactive‐behavioral model of group psychotherapy for people with ID who have trauma‐related distress.


This paper points to the need for systematic efforts to reduce the rate of traumatic exposure to which people with ID are disproportionately exposed. Moreover, it establishes how important the role of developmental level is in understanding how exposure to abuse may result in the development of psychological disorders. Finally, this paper provides a clear understanding of a targeted therapeutic approach and the need for a system of accessible care so that afflicted individuals may have the benefit of such therapy.



Razza, N.J., Tomasulo, D.J. and Sobsey, D. (2011), "Group psychotherapy for trauma‐related disorders in people with intellectual disabilities", Advances in Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities, Vol. 5 No. 5, pp. 40-45.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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