At the very least, sexual abuse is very confusing for a child. Often there’s an investigation that requires the child to speak to a police officer or other professional. It’s helpful for parent and child to have support from a mental health professional and assistance in understanding the abuse and reactions to it. In many cases, a child may not need lengthy, intensive therapy, but it’s helpful for the child and parent to sit down with a trained professional and talk through what has happened, to make sure the child understands and feels safe talking about their feelings. Children may blame themselves or hold other unrealistic ideas or beliefs about the abuse (cognitive distortions) that need to be corrected.

Parents may also benefit from talking to a professional who can assist them in overcoming the distress naturally associated with discovering that their child has been sexually abused. One approach to treatment, involving parents and children, that has received considerable scientific support is trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. There is increasing evidence that, with support from a caring adult and high-quality treatment, many children and parents effectively recover and may feel stronger and closer as a family in the aftermath of a traumatic experience.

Appears in: Healing and Recovering Together