How victims of bullying can help in research for treatments

By Dale Johnson Posted: August 15, 2017 6:00 a.m.

Audur Thorisdottir, a clinical psychology student, is looking into the best ways to help people who have been bullied.
Audur Thorisdottir, a clinical psychology student, is looking into the best ways to help people who have been bullied. Photo: U of R Photography

A psychology student wants to hear from people who have been bullied.

Audur Thorisdottir, a third-year PhD student in Clinical Psychology at the Department of Psychology, says bullying is a traumatic experience associated with a range of psychological and adjustment difficulties, such as PTSD, anxiety, depression and unstable interpersonal relationships.

“Bullying is a heterogeneous concept that describes a wide array of direct and indirect behaviours, including physical aggression (e.g., beating, destroying things), verbal aggression (e.g., teasing, insulting), social manipulation (e.g., spreading rumours or sending hurtful messages online),” Thorisdottir says.

“General consensus exists in the research literature on three conditions that differentiate bullying from other aggressive behaviours: power differential between the victim and bullies that make it difficult for the victim to defend him or herself; the behaviours (i.e., verbal, physical, or social manipulations) are harmful to the victim in some way; and the behaviours occur repeatedly over time."

She says new research shows that the negative effects of bullying can persist for many decades after the victimization has stopped.

“There are no systematic and victim-tailored psychological treatments available that focus specifically on the traumatic impact of the bullying victimization,” she explains.

Thorisdottir, an international student from Iceland, moved to the U of R three years ago to work with Dr. Gordon Asmundson and is one of only five recipients in Canada to be awarded the 2017-18 Delta Kappa Gamma World fellowship. She became interested in bullying through her research and clinical practice in the field of trauma, where she learned about the pronounced and prolonged effects bullying can have on victims.

“We often treat symptoms associated with a bullying victimization experience – such as anxiety, low self-esteem and depression – but not the traumatic impact of the victimization experience itself. Therefore, I want to test in my research whether treating bullying victimization as trauma using an adapted version of a specific trauma-focused treatment is helpful,” Thorisdottir says.

She is providing online therapy, because it increases client accessibility and convenience, especially for people in rural areas. She says therapy provided online has been found to be effective for various mental health conditions, especially if it is therapist-guided.

Thorisdottir is looking for participants for her research who have a history of bullying victimization and still feel bothered by that experience. They must be 18 years or older, live in Saskatchewan and have access to a computer and internet. They will be asked to complete 12 sessions of online therapy, assignments between sessions, and several questionnaires.

For more information please contact the Anxiety and Illness Behaviours Laboratory at 306-337-2473 or You can take the pre-screening questionnaires to see if you can participate through this link.