Youth Services Law

Resilience after Child Abuse

Therapy for childhood sexual abuseMost people quite logically think of the impact of abuse on children as uniformly negative.  Child Maltreatment, however, has a new study in which childhood survivors of sexual abuse reported both positive ("I am a stronger person") and negative ("I don't trust anyone now") changes in their lives.  As you would expect, the study found more negative changes overall than positive, but it also found some promising possibilities for helping children recover from the trauma.

The researchers found that "although not frequent (13.9%), healthy processing strategies that involved effortful regulation of emotion and attention to abuse material were related to better adjustment."  Accordingly, they recommend therapies such as trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) that encourage children to process the abuse rather than avoid reminders of it, and "foster a perspective that frames abuse as a part rather than a defining feature of youths’ lives."

Recognizing that abuse survivors often report positive changes afterward in no way justifies abuse.  But it is important to recognize that victims are not doomed to a life of misery.  As the authors of this study concluded, "Although not a panacea for the serious adjustment problems faced by many sexually abused youth, the ability to construct a life story that allows for positive meanings from a traumatic personal past may facilitate growth and resilience."

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