We Are Survivors 

This blog is dedicated to the tens of millions of adult survivors of child abuse and neglect who get up every day and try to work and function in a world that seems to not care about us.

Physical/Sexual Abuse Treatment Principles

Child victims of physical or sexual abuse very often have complicated histories of multiple victimization and trauma, and exhibit a variety of disorders, problems, and difficulties that may or may not be the direct result of abuse. Although the following list of treatment guidelines pertains to children in treatment for abuse,[1]it is helpful for adults as well. Some of the work that needs to be done in therapy is described below such as:

  • Skills for emotion identification, processing, and regulation,
  • Anxiety management skills,
  • Skills for the identification and alteration of maladaptive cognitions, and
  • Problem solving skills.

More specifically, the following can be considered basic and fundamental treatment components of effective therapy for children.

  • Children’s abuse experiences should be acknowledged and characterized as unlawful and harmful. Offending parents often have a rationale for their abusive behavior that is based on distorted ideas of child welfare.
  • Systematic clinical assessments of children and parents for both abuse-related and general mental health and behavioral problems should be conducted prior to initiating therapy.
  • Treatment protocols with the highest level of clinical support for their effectiveness with the specific problems identified should be used as the first choice interventions.
  • The potential benefits of a treatment should be balanced against its risks in the treatment process.
  • Interventions should explicitly and directly address the child’s maladaptive behaviors, thoughts, and feelings related to the abuse they experienced.
  • The ultimate, long-term functioning and welfare of the abused child should be the guiding principle of all treatment.
  • Treatment should have as a goal the prevention of future problems often associated with a history of abuse (e.g., substance abuse, delinquency, revictimization) as well as relief of the current problems experienced by the child.
  • When possible, treatment interventions should be used to improve the quality of parent-child relationships in abusive families.
  • When clients have achieved the therapeutic goals, treatment should end.
  • If it is clear that clients are not benefitting from treatment or that treatment is being harmful, treatment should be changed or discontinued.

Again, these principles are applicable to adult survivors as well. What is presented here will provide some idea of what are fundamental aspects of effective treatment.


[1] Saunders, B.E., Berliner, L., & Hanson, R.F. (Eds.), (2003), Child Physical and Sexual Abuse: Guidelines for Treatment (Final Report: January 15, 2003). Charleston, SC: National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center.

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