The Role of Self-Determination Theory in Physical Activity Interventions for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
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Standard treatments for trauma are often limited by the aversiveness of addressing traumatic memories in counselling. Physical activity is emerging as an effective adjunct treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that does not require clients to engage with traumatic memories, however PTSD symptoms themselves can act as a barrier to participation in physical activity. Identifying ways that physical activity interventions for PTSD can be designed to promote motivation to participate can help lower the barriers to exercise that people with PTSD experience. By reviewing the literature on physical activity as a treatment for PTSD, it was found that studies that were oriented around self-determination theory (SDT) had better participation rates and fewer dropouts. By attending to participants’ feelings of autonomy, competence and relatedness, interventions based on self-determination theory also help contribute to choice and safety, which are important considerations when designing interventions for people who have experienced trauma. Some gaps in the literature exist around the role of gender in physical activity interventions for PTSD, especially in understanding how gender may interact with self-determination theory or the need for perceived safety in people who have experienced trauma. A physical activity program that incorporates SDT elements is proposed as a way to put these findings into practice.