Evidence-Based Mental Health Treatment for Victims of Human Trafficking. Evidence-Based Mental Health Treatment


Trauma-informed services are a crucial part of a victims recovery (Clawson, Salomon, & Grace, 2008).  In trauma-informed care, treatment is guided by practitioners understanding of trauma and trauma-related issues that can present themselves in victims.  Trauma-informed care plays an important role in service delivery by providing a framework for accommodating the vulnerability of trauma victims.  It is not, however, designed to treat specific symptoms or syndromes (Office of Mental Health and Addiction Services, 2008).  The treatment of specific mental health symptoms and syndromes requires evidence-based therapeutic and sometimes pharmacological approaches.[4]

Evidence-based mental health treatment is guided by the idea that scientific evidence should be assessed when determining and implementing treatment options for patients (Drake et al., 2001; Howard, McMillen, & Pollio, 2003).  It stresses the importance of grounding practice decisions in empirical evidence that supports specific treatment options for particular types of clients.  Additionally, services should be implemented with adherence to evidence-based methodology; otherwise, treatment can be ineffective and in some cases can even cause harm (Drake et al., 2001).  Effective implementation requires training in therapeutic techniques.  In the field, mental health practitioners engage in evidence-based practice by successfully integrating scientific findings with professional judgment and clients personal preferences (Howard, McMillen & Pollio, 2003).  Non-licensed counselors may not only lack the unique skill set required for proper treatment implementation, but they may also lack testimonial privilege in court.  Therefore, victims may be re-victimized if these counselors are called upon to testify during court proceedings since these counselors may have to disclose information that the victims believed to be confidential[5] (Office for Victims of Crime, 1998).

Evidence-based practices target improved outcomes in terms of symptoms, functional status, and quality of life.  Therefore, progress is not only assessed in terms of relapse and re-hospitalization, but also positive outcomes such as independence, employment, and satisfying relationships are evaluated (Drake et al., 2001).  Over the years, evidence-based practices have been shown to improve healthcare outcomes as well as conserve resources by removing unnecessary and ineffective healthcare treatment (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2003).

Hierarchical Standards for Evidence-Based Studies
  1. Randomized clinical trials
  2. Quasi-experimental studies with comparison groups not assigned through randomization
  3. Open clinical trials that lack independent comparison groups
  4. Clinical observation as expert opinion (generally, these should not be considered research evidence)

Due to the fairly new development of anti-human trafficking activities and initiatives and the recent recognition of the phenomenon of human trafficking in the field of mental health, there is little evidence-based research on the treatment of victims of human trafficking.  However, as noted in other reports on human trafficking, it appears the health needs of this population are similar to those of other marginalized groups such as migrant laborers, victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence, and victims of torture (Clawson, Dutch, & Williamson, 2008; Fassa, 2003; International Organization for Migration, 2006; Zimmerman, 2003).  Therefore, pending sufficient evidence-based research on the direct treatment of human trafficking victims and the treatment of mental health disorders experienced by these individuals, research conducted with similar populations can be examined to provide a foundation for the treatment of this population.

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