Like adult victims, children experience significant psychological and emotional distress. Unlike adults, however, they are traumatized during the most critical period of their lives:
- When assumptions about self, others and the world are being formed;
- When their relations to their own internal states are being established; and
- When coping and relationship skills are first acquired.
Therefore, the Post Traumatic Stress reactions impact upon the child’s subsequent psychological and social maturation leading to atypical and potentially dysfunctional development. In other words, if untreated, the effects of sexual abuse in childhood are usually more dynamic and interactive, in contrast to trauma effects in adults who have a stable base development and maturation to draw on and for whom, with support, the trauma effects will wane over time.
For adults abused in childhood, who received no counselling or support at the time, some of the initial reactions of victim’s to the abuse may abate over time but more typically such disturbances along with abuse-specific coping behaviors, generalize and elaborate over time. These are the impacts which therapy can address in working with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
The key objective of counselling intervention with adult survivors of childhood sexual assault is to facilitate trauma resolution and foster healing and growth.
Treatment of adult survivors of childhood sexual assault incorporates a number of therapeutic approaches which reflect major the theoretical schools of therapy, emotional, cognitive and behavioral. Experiential or exploratory techniques focus on accessing emotions, re-experiencing the trauma and integrating these with the adult self. Cognitive therapy aims to identify the survivor’s distorted cognitions of themselves, others and the world and attempts to replace these with more accurate and realistic cognitions. Behavioral therapies focus on enhancing the survivor’s behavioral repertoire through the acquisition of more adaptive behavioral responses, coping strategies and learning new skills.