Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

The Impact of Learning about Child Abuse Trauma

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

The Impact of Learning about Child Abuse Trauma

Article excerpt

Many counselors attend graduate courses and seminars on the treatment of child abuse and neglect. Educators and trainers need to focus on the feelings and reactions elicited from exposure to the content of these courses. This article provides information on the impact of learning about the trauma of child abuse.

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The prevalence and long-term effects of child abuse are well documented in the literature (Briere, Berliner, Bulkley, Jenny, & Reid, 1996). In 1996, child protective services agencies substantiated almost 1 million reports of child maltreatment (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1998). More than half (52%) of all victims suffered neglect, almost a quarter (24%) suffered physical abuse, 12% were victims of sexual abuse, and 6% suffered from emotional maltreatment. Studies have implicated child abuse in the etiology of a broad spectrum of social and psychological problems, ranging from criminal activity and spousal abuse to alcoholism and depression (Finkelhor, 1996). Child abuse is a major risk factor for various problems, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, substance abuse, and impaired interpersonal relationships (Berliner & Elliott, 1996; Erickson & Egeland, 1996; Hart, Brassard, & Karlson, 1996; Kolbo, 1996).

With the prevalence of child abuse and the variability of psychological problems associated with it, counselors in a variety of settings will most likely encounter a client who is a child abuse survivor. Many counselors receive training and education about child abuse prevention and treatment through graduate-level courses, workshops, and seminars. For example, Winkelspecht and Singg (1998) found that more than two thirds of counselor training programs offered courses covering issues in childhood sexual abuse. However, counselors and educators may be unaware of the impact of such training on participants in these courses.

Courses or training on child abuse and neglect differ from other counselor education courses because of the topic itself. Many counselor educators and trainers understand the importance of processing students' feelings that develop in typical counseling courses, but they may underestimate the power of the emotions generated when discussing issues about child abuse and neglect. Educators must not only focus on the content of the course material on child abuse and neglect but also must attend to the feelings and reactions elicited from exposure to such content. The purpose of this article is to provide information on the impact of learning about the trauma of child abuse. In addition, recommendations for educators, students, and others who participate in child abuse and neglect education are discussed.

CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT: IMPACT OF TRAINING

Courses or workshops on child abuse typically include information about definitions of child abuse, physical and psychological effects of abuse, treatment modalities, and/or prevention strategies. Educational experiences may include lectures by the instructor, presentations from experts and from survivors, videotapes and audiotapes, and slide presentations. Workshops or seminars are designed to educate participants about the prevalence of child abuse and its impact on the social and psychological functioning of survivors. In addition, participants learn effective treatment practices for counseling survivors of child abuse. This material may expose participants (some for the first time) to graphic accounts, both oral and visual, of abuse to children. For example, instructors might use videotapes of survivors recounting their abuse stories or have survivors themselves present to the class. In addition, physicians who do forensic assessment of child abuse might provide a slide presentation for the class showing the physical effects of abuse. These pictures, in particular, are quite disturbing and can arouse great discomfort in many participants. …

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