An investigation of cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness, and predictors of psychological treatment response among women with provoked vestibulodynia

Provoked vestibulodynia (PVD) is severe pain at the vaginal opening and the most common form of chronic genital pain in women. Although as many as 14 per cent of Canadian women and 20 per cent of adolescents are affected by this condition, it is frequently underdiagnosed and undertreated, and as a result, many women experience sexual difficulties, emotional distress, and multiple medical visits. Although different types of treatment exist, ranging from medication to psychological therapy, the best treatments to reduce PVD pain and distress, and which patients will benefit the most, are not known. Evidence indicates that psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based therapy (MBT) are effective at reducing pain and sex-related distress for women with PVD. CBT is designed to challenge thoughts and uses active strategies (e.g. progressive muscle relaxation to decrease muscle tension) to change one’s experience, whereas MBT teaches individuals to be nonjudgmental and accepting of their experience and to learn to live without reacting to pain. Dr. Kelly Smith’s aim is to determine whether CBT or MBT is the most effective approach for reducing PVD pain and improving women’s quality of life, and she will determine which patient characteristics are associated with better responses to these treatments. She will be examining personal and medical characteristics for women with PVD who participated in the Multidisciplinary Vulvodynia Program, a treatment program based at Vancouver General Hospital for women with chronic genital pain. She will then study whether CBT or MBT is related to greater pain reduction and improvements in sexual function/emotional distress in a group of 70 women participating in an 8-session CBT or MBT group program. At the end of the study, women will be interviewed to assess their satisfaction with the program and provide feedback on how to improve the program. Dr. Smith’s studies will be the first to provide information on which of these psychological treatments works best for specific types of women with PVD. This information will provide clinicians with evidence-based guidance regarding potential treatment recommendations and will be essential in helping to reduce the health and economic burdens associated with PVD. Dr. Smith’s final results will be communicated to physicians and other health providers in British Columbia, and her findings will be submitted for publication in professional, wide-reaching health journals.