Child abuse includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, abandonment, emotional abuse and exploitation. An abused child often experiences fear, anxiety and severe emotional distress. Child abuse is usually discovered when the child’s teacher notices a change in his/her behavior, the child comes to school with bruises, bumps or cuts, when the child continuously daydreams and/or when the child has trouble making friends or interacting with others.
The effects of child abuse can follow the child into adulthood. Thankfully, therapists have developed successful techniques that can help children effectively cope with the trauma they have endured. Therapists can help children understand that the abuse is not their fault and that they can lead a healthy, happy, abuse-free life. Therapists can also provide a loving and nurturing environment for these children and give them the tools they need to handle future crises. There are a variety of psychological techniques that are beneficial for children who have been abused.
These techniques include:
Play therapy is ideal for young children because they tend to imitate what they have witnessed or experienced. It is a psychodynamic counseling technique that is generally used with a child who is under the age of 11. During play therapy, the child reenacts his/her abusive situation through play with dolls and dollhouses, action figurines, memory games and/or guessing games. Play therapy provides the therapist with an idea of what the child has experienced.
The therapist uses play therapy to help the child understand what is “right” and what is “wrong” behaviors, teach the child healthy coping skills and guide the child through the healing process. The therapist provides support and a nurturing environment for the child.
The most important element of play therapy is a warm, caring and secure atmosphere. The child needs to feel cared about and safe when he/she is in the presence of the therapist. It is the responsibility of the therapist to provide a non-threatening environment for the child when he/she is in the office.
Please note that counseling an abused child requires more than just listening and talking. As a therapist, you may have to use structured or unstructured play situations such as music, reading stories, role playing, art and/or clay to allow the child to release tension and express him/herself. In addition, play therapy has proven successful in providing children with a non-threatening environment to act out family issues.
A medical approach is another “technique” that is used to treat abused children. Psychiatrists can treat many of the symptoms associated with child abuse such as stress, depression, anxiety and/or feelings of hopelessness with medications. Some children require a combination of medication and counseling to heal from the effects of child abuse. This approach helps abused children achieve and maintain healthy and productive lives. The medical approach helps abused children cope with the trauma they experienced so that they can heal from the abuse.
Art therapy is a psychological technique that is often used to treat children who have been abused. This type of treatment is often used in hospitals and university settings. Art therapy provides children with an opportunity to discuss sensitive topics and express how they feel about what has happened to them in a non-verbal way. This type of therapy is especially helpful when a child experiences grief, loss and/or abuse.
Talk therapy, is a psychological technique, used to treat children and adolescents who have been abused. Talk therapy is goal-oriented. Its main goal is to reduce anxiety and rectify behavioral issues stemming from the trauma. This type of therapy helps abused children understand and cope with their emotions. Talk therapy is only appropriate for children who can fully understand the concept of abuse. It can be used in conjunction with other treatments such as medication, support groups and/or art therapy.
Family therapy is a psychological technique that can help abused children and their families work through the effects of abuse. These issues may include: dysfunctional communication patterns, anger and rage issues, domestic violence, generational abuse and/or substance abuse. At the beginning of family therapy, abused children attend individual therapy sessions and later the family is asked to join the sessions. The family is looked at one whole unit instead of individual people and family therapy focuses on resolving issues within the family. Once the family issues are resolved then the family can help the child heal from the abuse.
Developmental Play Groups:
Abused children also benefit from developmental play groups. These types of play groups have proven especially effectively in younger children, but they help older children who are grappling with fluctuating emotions related to the abuse. Older children tend to do best when they are in a group of their peers who have experienced a similar trauma. In addition, developmental play groups/group counseling can be especially useful with abused children and adolescents because it helps them understand that what happened to them was not their fault and it teaches them how to defend themselves if the situation arises again.
McFadden, E. J. (1990). Counseling abused children. Highlights: An ERIC/CAPS Digest.
Vernon, A. (2002). What works when with children and adolescents: A handbook of individual counseling techniques. Champaign, IL: Research Press.