Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

First Advisor

Kieran Killeen


Empowerment Self-Defense (ESD) programs demonstrate long-term efficacy in reducing the rates of sexual trauma for women. Various randomized control trials also show that ESD programming creates significant improvements to women’s confidence, assertiveness, self-efficacy, and a reduction in re-victimization risk, and helps participants understand the gendered socio-emotional and cultural barriers to participatory resistance for women, placing the entire blame for assaults on the perpetrator and not the survivor (Decker et al., 2018; Hollander, 2014, 2020, 2022; Hollander & Cunningham, 2020; McCaughey & Cermel, 2017; Orchowski et al., 2018; Senn et al., 2018; Sinclair et al., 2013). A growing body of research also suggests that the mental and physical training of ESD facilitates recovery from sexual trauma and, as a result, could serve as a therapeutic intervention (Beaujolais, 2022; David et al., 2006; Hotchkiss, 2022; Rosenblum & Taska, 2014). Extensive research on yoga and other forms of somatic treatments confirms that movement within the context of therapy can lead to a sense of presence in the body that promotes healing from trauma (Emmons, Chan & Burker, 2021; Levine, 2010; van der Kolk, 2014). Similarly, recent research in trauma recovery highlights the neurological underpinnings that explain how body-based approaches help survivors heal (Porges, 2017, 2022; Porges & Dana, 2018). However, while research has proven that ESD programs can reduce rates of violence against women and increase agency, little is known about the relationship between ESD and healing from sexual trauma.

Framed by the transformative paradigm (Mertens, 2009, 2010, 2012), I conducted a mixed method evaluation of the Therapeutic Empowerment Self-Defense (TESD) program, a 7 to 10 hour, later-staged, adjunctive mental health treatment for women survivors of sexual trauma that incorporates the mental and physical skills of ESD attuned for healing. Semi-structured interviews and closed and open-ended surveys assessed how one cohort of 9 women experienced this trauma treatment program. Pre and post measures for PTSD (PCL-5), resilience (Basic Resilience Scale) and well-being (WHO-5 Well-Being Index) evaluated the relationship between participation in the TESD program and post-traumatic growth. Wilcoxon Signed-Rank Tests were used to test for significance of the pre and post measures. Reflexive Thematic Analysis (RTA) was used to analyze the qualitative data.

Qualitative and quantitative findings suggest that participants largely experienced the TESD program as a healing modality consistent with other therapeutic applications of ESD (David et. al, 2009; Hotchkiss et al., 2022; Jordan & Mossman, 2017, 2018, 2019). In the words of a TESD participant, “This is where I got my power.” Further research is needed to confirm and expand upon the findings, as physical and sexual violence in the US has been and continues to be a pernicious public health problem that requires robust evidence-based programs that promote education, prevention, and healing.



Number of Pages

211 p.

Available for download on Friday, April 18, 2025