Issues Treated in Therapy:
Living through a period of physical, sexual, or severe emotional abuse can leave psychic wounds that can be harder to heal than a bodily injury. Whether the abuse was inflicted as a child or an adult, survivors often struggle to cope and lead happy, peaceful lives. Therapy is a proven aid in understanding, expressing, integrating, and letting go of the pain and confusion that may stem from abusive experiences. Intense, often negative feelings are not uncommon, and survivors of abuse should understand that having difficulty coping with upsetting memories, blocks to intimacy, anxiety, and other remnants of abuse is fairly typical, and can be worked through, in time, with good therapy.
All types of abuse are painful and can cause psychological wounds. Often, a victim of abuse will experience more than one type of abuse. Below are several different types of abuse:
Not all of the following challenges result from being abused, and abuse does not always lead to significant emotional or psychological problems. However, here are some typical psychological concerns that people who have been abused may face:
Abuse in any form can have a significant negative impact on an individual’s life. Children who have been sexually, psychologically, or physically abused often experience emotional problems that can affect their school performance and/or social skills. As adults, survivors of abuse may experience difficulty with employment, parenting, and/or maintaining healthy relationships. Many survivors must cope with serious psychological issues, such as:
Psychotherapy that addresses these issues can help survivors of abuse lead more fulfilling lives.
Delivered in a group of people, group therapy for people who have experienced abuse can be an extremely cathartic experience. Individuals who feel different, ashamed, or guilty as a result of the abuse will benefit immensely from discovering other people who have lived through similar experiences. Working one on one with a therapist provides a more intimate and personal platform for someone who may not be comfortable revealing their emotions, or someone who may be too traumatized by the abuse to share their feelings with others. Either way, psychotherapy focuses on addressing the emotions related to the abuse and helps the client work through distorted perceptions resulting from the abuse, such as guilt and shame. Clients who receive therapy for the abuse learn how to manage the emotions related to the abuse in an adaptive way and begin to develop new responses and behaviors. Using meditation, mindfulness, trauma relief, behavioral transformation, and other techniques, psychotherapy can empower a client so that they may move away from the consequences of the abuse and forward toward the life they desire.
Patricia, 45, seeks therapy because she is in her first sexual relationship after more than two decades of avoiding intimacy. As a teenager, she was sexually abused by a male relative and feels great anxiety and anger whenever a man shows sexual desire for her. She has recently met a man who seems safe and compatible, but she does not trust her judgment. She is also very triggered, almost to the point of having panic attacks, anytime he initiates physical intimacy. Learning relaxation skills, exploring ways to take care of herself and stay physically and emotionally safe, and achieving some catharsis of her grief and anxiety allows her not to escape her fears and triggers, but to be able to move forward in the relationship in the presence of such triggers. Eventually Patricia develops a deeper level of trust not just with her partner, but with human beings in general--although anxiety remains an issue for her for many years, diminishing slowly in stops and starts.
David, 27, was physically and emotionally abused by his parents as a boy, and feels great anger and shame. He has a need to understand why this happened to him, and cannot shake the sense that he must have deserved it. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps David to reality check his beliefs, and he begins to see his parents as the imperfect people they really are. This allows him some way to forgive himself, greatly improving his mood and self-image.
Julie, 32, has been in and out of several abusive romantic relationships with women over the last decade. She recognizes the pattern but continues to forgive abusive behaviors by her partners and blame herself for their actions. Therapy helps her see how her abusers are like her mother, and this insight alone improves her ability to set boundaries. The support of her therapist, over about a year, helps Julie to accept her own needs as legitimate and begin advocating for herself with her partners.
Devon, 12, was severely beaten by caretakers and has little ability to form healthy attachment to adults. He picks on other children at school and has been shuffled around the foster care system. His current caretakers want to adopt him, but only if they can find a way to manage his behaviors and win his trust. Family systems work with an experienced family therapist begins to alter the dynamics of the family’s interactions, and after many years of intense and difficult sessions, Devon is able to feel that he is safe.
If there is something important you'd like us to consider adding to this page, please feel free to suggest your ideas.
Last updated: 05-14-2013
Abuse / Survivors of Abuse Articles