Psychological mechanisms underlying the relationship between childhood trauma and psychosis
: Exploring the role of emotion regulation

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Aims: There is now a very large research literature showing that childhood trauma has enduring consequences that can span across many areas of a child’s development. Since early emotion-regulatory processes emerge within the context of a caregiver-child relationship, disruptions in the development of emotion regulation skills are thought to be a common consequence of childhood abuse. A comprehensive investigation of this relationship would be a useful addition to the literature, given the increasing recognition of shared processes across a range of disorders and recommendations to adopt a mechanism-focused approach. This review sought to identify, summarise and critically evaluate studies that investigated the relationship between childhood abuse and emotion regulation in adults with a diagnosed mental health disorder. Method: Searches of electronic databases Embase, PsycINFO and Medline were conducted. After screening, papers relevant to the review question were examined in more detail and quality assessment ratings were completed. Results: Overall, 549 studies were identified through searches. After inclusion and exclusion criteria were applied, a total of 10 studies met criteria and were included in the review. These included 1,431 participants with a variety of clinically significant mental health problems. Quality varied across studies and some frequent methodological limitations were identified.
Conclusion: Findings provide evidence for a specific link between childhood abuse, particularly childhood emotional abuse, and emotion regulation difficulties. Findings also provide some evidence that emotion regulation difficulties may, in part, explain the relationship between childhood abuse and mental health difficulties later in life. However, due to the methodological issues raised and the small number of studies reviewed, it is not possible to draw firm conclusions and further investigation is needed. Recommendations are made to improve the methodological quality of future studies and to encourage consistency in research aims and methods.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorAmy Hardy (Supervisor)

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