COVID-19 and Mental Health (CMH) Initiative: Research

Examining the Use of Virtual Care Interventions to Provide Trauma-Focused Treatment to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Populations

Key Messages

  • The provision of online psychological therapies for reducing psychological symptoms such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from domestic violence or sexual assault are effective.
  • When compared with face-to-face treatment interventions, trauma-focused virtual care interventions had similar outcome measures for mental health distress.
  • Provision of services virtual care interventions is also associated with a number of perceived challenges regarding the relationship between providers and clients, confidentiality, and patient safety, and technological barriers.
  • Virtual care interventions for this population is most effective when used to supplement or facilitate (rather than replace) in-person professional trauma-focused care.
  • Stakeholder interviews conducted in Alberta highlighted several barriers for virtual care for at-risk populations experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault during a pandemic. These include the practitioners’ inability to assess safety in the clients’ environment; challenges in making connection with new clients in virtual settings; and the loss of human connection in virtual settings that is vital in healing trauma.

Lay Summary

The findings from the rapid review demonstrate that despite the broad range of negative effects associated with domestic and intimate partner violence, virtual care interventions that incorporate trauma-focused treatment are scarce and largely limited to online support tools that facilitate empowerment and self-efficacy of individuals who are currently in a violent or abusive relationship. Available online interventions that incorporate trauma-focused treatment for this at-risk group are limited in scope, and effectiveness data are preliminary in nature. Research evidence supports the provision of online psychological therapies for reducing psychological symptoms such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from domestic violence or sexual assault. Findings from the rapid evidence review also indicate that treatment provided via videoconferencing is capable of achieving comparable gains that accrue during traditional in-person services. The provision of virtual care delivery (e.g., videoconferencing) is associated with a number of perceived challenges regarding the impact of distal services on the relationship between providers and clients, confidentiality, patient safety and technological difficulties. Stakeholder interviews conducted in Alberta helped to contextualize knowledge from the rapid evidence review support understanding of the experiences of providers and patients in using virtual care to treat trauma-related symptoms resulting from domestic violence and sexual assault. Providers shared both positive aspects of virtual care, such as the accessibility of virtual care sessions or appointments, and barriers to delivering virtual care which included concerns about privacy and safety of their clients and organizational changes that were required to delivery services and treatment virtually.

Keywords

  • Domestic violence
  • Sexual assault
  • Virtual care
  • E-mental health
  • Trauma-focused treatment
  • Mental health

Author(s)

  • Nominated Principal Applicant: Dr. Stephanie Montesanti
  • Dr. Peter Silverstone, MD, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Alberta
  • Dr. Lana Wells, PhD, Brenda Stafford Chair, Prevention of Domestic Violence, Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary
  • Ms. Winta Ghidei, MPH, PhD Student, Project Manager, School of Public Health, University of Alberta

For more information, please contact: Dr. Stephanie Montesanti, montesan@ualberta.ca

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Population

Vulnerable or At-Risk Populations, Children, Youth and Families

Language

To ensure the rapid dissemination of this critical information, information is published in the language in which it was submitted. Please contact us for French or English translations.

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