Dr. John Briere, a clinical psychologist at LAC-USC medical center specializes in the treatment of child abuse, psychological trauma, and interpersonal violence. In his 1996 book, "Therapy for Adults Molested as Children" he reports that "about one third of women, and one sixth of men in North America report sexual victimization that occurred during or before their mid teens". He adds that according to research studies, 40-70% of women requesting psychotherapy report sexual abuse during their childhood.
In the last several decades there has been a growing awareness of childhood sexual abuse as a very real problem in our society, which leaves its survivors with a variety of emotional difficulties, some of which include difficulty with trust, poor self-esteem, depression, substance abuse, sexual problems, interpersonal difficulties, and a feeling of "being different" and "alone".
When a child has been sexually abused, there are several different outcomes. If the child tells immediately, is believed and supported, and receives counseling, the healing process is usually very successful. However, most often this is not the case. Children often carry the shame and guilt that belongs to their abuser, wondering what they did wrong to make this happen to them. Often they have been threatened that "if they tell" something bad will happen to them, or their loved ones. Sometimes they try to tell someone, but are not believed. When this is the case, they carry these feelings inside them into their adult years, and experience problems that impact every aspect of their lives. Often adult survivors don't realize the degree to which this betrayal of their innocence has affected them, until they begin counseling.
The good news is that it is never too late for treatment and healing. Once a person breaks out of their self-imposed isolation, and "tells their secret" to a trustworthy person, the healing process begins. Issues of self-esteem, relationship difficulties, parenting problems, trust, and depression are addressed and worked through.
In addition to individual counseling, group counseling is tremendously helpful to survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Talking with other people who have experienced a similar experience, and carry similar issues can greatly enhance the healing process. Knowing you are not alone, and hearing others verbalize thoughts and feelings that you have had for years, often provides an immediate sense of relief, and liberation from the pain. You don't have to continue living with these painful feelings…You can feel better!
Audrey Udelf, MA, is an intern at Families Counseling. She specializes in the treatment of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and provides both individual and group counseling. She can be reached at (805) 583-3976 x 77.