Counseling Sexual Abuse Survivors and Caregivers

By Haiyasoso, Maria; Moyer, Michael | Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research, July 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Counseling Sexual Abuse Survivors and Caregivers


Haiyasoso, Maria, Moyer, Michael, Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research


This qualitative study examined licensed professional counselors' (LPCs) experiences counseling survivors of child sexual abuse and nonoffending caregivers (N=10). The researchers used a phenomenological approach for the study. Using semistructured interviews and method of trustworthiness, the researchers identified four emergent themes: Clients' Life Circumstances (subthemes: Relational Factors and Environmental Factors), Professional Orientation (subthemes: Training/Education, Theoretical Approach, and Conceptualization), Awareness (subthemes: Textural Awareness and Structural Awareness), and Coping Strategies (subthemes: Self-care, Consultation/Supervision, and Reflecting on Experience). Implications for counseling practice, counselor education and supervision, and future research are discussed.

Child sexual abuse, generally considered any sexual activity with a child below the age of consent (Berliner, 2011), is a severe and devastating issue in society (American Psychological Association [APA], 2012; United States Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS], 2011). Children's Advocacy Centers (CACs) were established throughout the United States to assist agencies with child abuse and neglect investigations (Newman, Dannenfelsei; & Pendleton, 2005). After going to a CAC, many child survivors and nonoffending caregivers (NOCs) are offered counseling services or are referred offsite if onsite services are not available (Newman et al., 2005).

Counseling Survivors and Nonoffending Caregivers

Counseling is helpful for sexually abused children and their caregivers (Newman et al., 2005; Pollio, Deblinger, & Runyon, 2011) and bolsters caregiver support (Corcoran, 2004). Caregiver support impacts disclosures of CSA and child symptomatology (i.e. sexual behavior and play, cognitive distortions Elliot & Briere, 1994; Pollio et al., 2011). However, caregiver support is not static and many variables including changed family dynamics, cultural or religious beliefs, or stress of an investigation contribute to this state of flux (Allagia, 2002; Humphreys, 1992).

Effects on Practitioners Working with Child Sexual Abuse and Other Trauma Survivors

Herman (1992) noted, "Trauma is contagious" (p.140). Therefore, particular issues arise for practitioners working with survivors of sexual abuse (Figley, 1995; Harper & Steadman, 2003; Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995b). Although information specifically about FPCs working with CSA survivors and their NOCs is sparse, the effects of therapeutic work with trauma survivors on practitioners have been previously studied (Figley, 1995; Herman, 1992; McCann & Pearlman, 1990; Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995a; Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995b). Some of these effects included countertransference (Shay, 1992), vicarious traumatization (Herman, 1992; McCann & Pearlman, 1990; Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995b; Schauben and Frazier, 1995), secondary traumatic stress or compassion fatigue (Figley, 1995), burnout (Maslach, Feiter, & Jackson, 2012), difficulty maintaining boundaries (Harper & Steadman, 2003), emotional responses (Knight, 1997), and sexual responses (Herman, 1992; Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995a) to treating survivors of CSA. Furthermore, managing the various effects has been discussed as well as positive aspects of providing treatment for this population (Herman, 1992; Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995a; Schauben & Frazier^ 1995), including the notion of compassion satisfaction, or being motivated helping other people (Collins & Fong, 2003).

Purpose

Several studies have examined the impact of working with CSA survivors on mental health practitioners (Knight, 1997; McCann & Pearlman, 1990) but not FPCs specifically. In combining many mental health practitioners into one group, the previous researchers have neglected individual differences unique to each mental health profession. Other mental health professionals have historically addressed mental health from a medical model or with focus on illness and aim to help clients recover (Remley & Herlihy, 2014). …

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