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Childhood Emotional Abuse in Incarcerated Females: Use of the Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI) in Identifying Complex Trauma Symptomology

11 December 2009


Research supports the concept that early, chronic, and interpersonal childhood abuse, specifically childhood emotional abuse, is linked with the development of PTSD symptoms, and especially Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) symptoms (Briere & Rickards, 2007). Childhood abuse is also a risk factor for the development of co-morbid substance use disorders (Najavits et al., 1997). The majority of incarcerated females have experienced childhood abuse (Zlotnick, 1997). Women with Substance Use Disorders who also experience symptoms of CPTSD are a unique population within the prison system. Research indicates that these women could benefit from trauma-informed treatment, taking into account the interaction between past experience, current CPTSD symptoms, and substance use and abuse.

This study examined the relationship between childhood emotional abuse (CEA), CPTSD, and Substance Use Disorders (SUDS) in women in prison. The Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI) was employed to clarify the degree of relation between these constructs and to identify women who would benefit from trauma informed substance and mental health treatment. Data were analyzed for ninety-nine female inmates who completed the Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI) and the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. Descriptive analyses revealed women who reported moderate to severe CEA experienced significantly higher levels of substance use and higher utilization of mental health treatment before and during incarceration. Group differences in substance use and mental health symptoms were not detected by the PAI. These results demonstrate the PAI’s limited ability in discriminating among levels of CEA, CPTSD, and SUDs in female inmates.


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