The preliminary REAC²H results are in… and they look good! Even though the REAC²H workshops are firmly rooted in scientific theory, we felt it was important to objectively test their efficacy. We believe this sets the REAC²H workshops apart from many others because we are able to back our claims of success with hard data. Also, our research findings help guide content development so that our workshops can become even more effective over time. The REAC²H research project was made possible by a research grant from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies and by generous support from The Meadows in Wickenburg, Arizona. Also, we are profoundly grateful to the workshop participants who contributed so much to the research project – thank you all!
Overview of Research Project
This pilot-research project was initiated to assess the effectiveness of the REAC²H workshops through what is known as a “wait-list controlled design”. We recruited a sample of women (over 18 years old) who reported a history of relational trauma in childhood (e.g., abuse, neglect, abandonment, etc.) Half of the sample were assigned to the “intervention group” (N=17) and half were assigned to the “control group” (N=22). During the week before the intervention group received the workshop, both groups filled out a number of questionnaires about childhood maltreatment, attachment experiences, patterns of thinking and expressing emotion and mindfulness. Both groups also wrote about a stressful or traumatic experience from childhood involving one or more caregiver.
After both groups completed all the measurements at time period one (T1), the intervention group received the REAC²H workshop. Meanwhile, the control group did not receive the REAC²H workshop and presumably went about their lives as usual. One week after the intervention group received the REAC²H workshop, both groups again completed the same measures at time period two (T2). Four weeks later, both groups completed the same measures a final time at time period three (T3). They also wrote about the same stressful or traumatic experience at time period three (T3). After the final set of measures were completed by both groups, the control group received the REAC²H workshop.
Theoretically, the only difference between the two groups over the course of the three measurement periods was that the intervention group received the REAC²H workshop while the control group did not. By comparing the two groups we are able to feel pretty confident that differences between the two groups can be attributed to the REAC²H workshop.
When we looked at all of the participants’ data from the first measurement period, we found that child maltreatment was indeed related to adult attachment insecurity (i.e., lower levels of trust, intimacy and security in close relationships). Congruent with our previous findings, participants reporting high levels of attachment-related avoidance (similar to Love Avoidance) tended to suppress their emotions, pay less attention to emotions and lack clarity about their emotions (i.e., Deactivation of the attachment system). On the other hand, participants reporting high levels of attachment-related anxiety or preoccupation (similar to Love Addiction) tended to have lots of ruminating thoughts and had trouble managing negative emotions (i.e., Hyperactivation of the attachment system). Both insecure attachment styles (avoidance and anxiety) were associated with less emotional control and lower levels of mindfulness.
The REAC²H workshop is based on the idea that mindfulness and self-compassion practices can help reduce the deactivating and hyperactivating patterns that are associated with attachment-related avoidance and anxiety, respectively. So, we measured these outcomes over time to see if there were differences between the intervention and control groups. In all of the areas we measured (except Negative Emotion), the intervention group made significant improvements after receiving the REAC²H workshop, while the control group had no significant change. (Presumably the control group experienced similar improvements when they completed the workshop, after the study was finished.) The following graphs show the results of these tests:
Rumination: REAC²H workshop participants showed a significant reduction in the tendency to ruminate or think a lot about negative things over and over. Rumination is associated with attachment-related anxiety and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Mindfulness has been shown in other research studies to help calm racing thoughts and reduce rumination.
Negative Emotion: REAC²H workshop participants showed a trend in lower levels of negative emotion compared to the control group. This difference did not reach the level of statistical significance. High levels of negative emotion are associated with attachment-related anxiety or preoccupation. Mindfulness can be a powerful way to reduce negative emotion and increase positive emotion. In future workshops, we may try to incorporate more skills that facilitate positive emotions.
Suppression: REAC²H workshop participants showed a significant reduction in the tendency to suppress their emotions. This finding is especially important for people with high levels of attachment-related avoidance because they generally need help in learning to open up to and accept their emotions. Mindfulness can help reduce emotional suppression by increasing one’s curiosity in emotional processes and one’s tolerance of emotional states.
Emotional Clarity: REAC²H workshop participants showed a significant increase in clarity and understanding about their emotions. Typically, people with elevated levels of attachment-related avoidance have limited awareness and clarity of their emotions. Having more clarity about emotional states enables people to better manage and work with their emotions. Mindfulness techniques have been used for centuries to increase one’s clarity about emotional states.
Emotion Dysregulation: REAC²H workshop participants showed a significant reduction in emotional reactivity and emotion dysregulation. In other words, compared to the control group, those people who attended the REAC²H workshop were better able to manage their emotions, particularly negative emotions like fear, shame and anger. Lots of research has shown that regulating one’s emotions plays a critical role in maintaining well-being and mindfulness seems to help in this regard.
Mindfulness: REAC²H workshop participants showed a significant increase in their capacity for mindfulness. In fact, the intervention group showed an increase in the five major areas of mindfulness that we measured, including: observing internal/external experience mindfully, describing these experiences in language, acting with mindful awareness, adopting a non-judgmental stance, and approaching one’s experiences with non-reactivity.
Attachment Writing Exercise: We utilized advanced computer software to analyze the participants’ text narratives of stressful or traumatic childhood experiences with caregivers. We found that, compared to the control group, REAC²H workshop participants showed significant changes in the percentage of certain word categories that are associated with mindfulness. For example, when writing about traumatic childhood attachment experiences, the REAC²H workshop participants used fewer past tense words, more present tense words, and more words that indicate cognitive processing and insight. We interpreted these results as evidence that the REAC²H workshop participants were more present and mindful while writing about their stressful attachment experience.
These results are still preliminary and they need to be reviewed by other research investigators during the publication process. However, these results are very exciting and they confirm our hypotheses about the efficacy of the REAC²H workshops. We will continue to conduct research so that we can improve the REAC²H workshops and further our understanding of childhood trauma, attachment, emotion regulation and mindfulness. Thanks again to all of you who participated in this research!