Child Abuse and Its Effects on the Children's Psyche

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‘We knew [abuse of] black kids was reported about twice as often as it was for white kids, and we were concerned that that might be due to racism. We also knew black kids, in terms of economics, were facing a lot of problems that most white kids were not facing,’ said Washington University social work professor Brett Drake. Rates of reported child abuse are disproportionately high for black children. Many researchers believe that poverty is the main reason black children are twice as likely as white children to suffer abuse (Gray 1). In 2012, over 1,600 children died from abuse. Child abuse is a major problem faced in the United States today, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over 3.3 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States every year. These reports add up to nearly six million children involved in child abuse every year. Of the 702,000 cases of substantiated child abuse in 2009, 44 percent involved white children and 22.3 percent involved black children. Blacks make up 12.4 percent of the country’s population; whites, 74.8 percent (Gray). Being that child abuse is against the law it is concerning that child abuse accounts for five deaths per day. It is also the leading killer of children under the age of four. These children have suffered the loss of innocence and have had their child hood stripped away from them. Therapy has a positive effect on African American children who have endured abuse because it allows them to heal through creative therapies, gives the child a safe place to express their feelings, and helps them regain confidence.

Many people see therapy as something for people who are weak mentally, “Therapy is the art and science of helping children make sense of their feelings, thoughts, and behavior and learn how to control their behavior and improve interactions with others” (Winn 1). Usually after a child has endured a dramatic moment in their life that could have a negative impact on them they are immediately placed into therapy. Therapy is supposed to help the child deal with the trauma from their past without pretending like it never happened. However, children differ from adults; meaning that therapist must develop different tactics in order to get into the mind of a child and understand how children think. “It is estimated that seventy percent of school-age children from low socioeconomic areas have witnessed assaults, arrests, drug deals, gang violence, shootings, and domestic violence” (Skybo 263). Emotional and behavioral changes seen in children are usually caused by child abuse. Negative behaviors that can be seen are acting out using aggression, delinquency, poor academic performances, and physical violence towards others. Jason was eleven when he was presented to a community service mental health center. Jason’s mother reported a history of domestic violence both physical and emotional caused by Jason’s father. Jason’s mother expressed multiple concerns for her son including behavioral problems. It was reported that Jason liked to order his mother around, began to do poorly academic wise, and numerously expressed a sense of loyalty towards his father. In everyday therapy sessions therapist depend on verbal communications to work through and understand what someone who has been through abuse is dealing with. It has been seen that children require interaction. Art therapy allows one to express their feelings nonverbally. It also allows a person to channel their feelings through creative activity. This type of therapy controls behaviors such as acting out. This is because the child is putting their aggression into an object outside of themselves. Art therapy allows children a since of control by enabling them to make decisions but also giving them the ability to change their mind if necessary.

Art therapy not only helps children deal with abuse in a non-verbal way but also gives children the ability to laugh and find happiness. Art therapy gives children an outlet for emotional exploration while also building healthier communication and relationships, and also discovering and enjoying the innocence of childhood. Childhood is centered on playing; children playing with their friends, with their parents, with their teachers, and with their family. Play is considered a concrete part of childhood, “Play is the central activity of childhood and the single most important means by which they learn about themselves, others, the world around them and their place in that world” (Landreth 2002). The United Nations emphasizes the importance of play to the development and wholeness of children. Through play children learn many things including respecting themselves, controlling their feelings, and becoming creative in confronting problems. Play and activity can help children build relations with others and are the means of natural communication. Play therapy is a “dynamic interpersonal relationship between a child and a therapist trained in play therapy procedures who provides selected play materials and facilities the development of a safe relationship for the child to fully express and explore self through play.” (Rodriguez-Srednicki 245). Play allows children who have gone through trauma to express and work through the shock at their own speed. Play therapy is primary and usually the most appropriate, mediation for children. Play therapy gives the child a safe and protected space where they can enact, ingest, and assimilate traumatic experiences and emotions into small quantities, manageable components, and handle those experiences through play.Therapists understand the importance of play in the lives of children and are aware that they communicate through play and their actions. A responsible therapist goes to a child’s level and communicates with them in a way that they understand and are able to develop ways of dealing with the traumatic events. Play therapy is based on Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. Piaget noticed children and adults differ in how they understand and process information. Children in the pre-operational stage are acquiring skills in which symbols are used to represent spoken communication. Children are able to create without being restricted to use verbal communication. An important role in play therapy is to provide children with the opportunity to prove that they can be successful. Play therapists provide a safe and accepting environment. Children use play to learn about the world and also themselves. Children tend to use the process of play therapy to reduce overwhelming experiences in their lives into manageable situations through symbolic representations. This gives the child the ability to express themselves in other ways rather than talking one on one to a therapist about the abuse they have physically endured.

Another popular form of therapy that shows how therapist differs from children and adults is drama therapy. Drama therapy is an “intentional use of drama and/or theater processes to achieve therapeutic goals” (Brooke 249). Drama therapy sessions can include role playing, script writing or storytelling. This theory draws perspectives from different types of psychological views. This type of therapy is effective because it involves a whole-body approach. This also works faster and the skills that the children develop are easy to retain than in the traditional “talk” therapies. This is because it also incorporates styles of learning. By observing stories being acted out the child dealing with the trauma of abuse is able to see the bigger picture and put things into perspective. Drama allows children to express emotions. Drama therapy helps survivors of abuse reclaim dignity and present themselves more effectively. Singing and songwriting has potential to help the healing process of children who have been through traumatic situations. Through singing the child can discover and experience a freedom of expression which may not have felt possible in their previous environment. Many children at first are reluctant to sing. Sometimes to encourage children to do something that will have a lasting effect on their lives who have to find a peer who has experienced the same traumas and allow them to encourage and help the child. Children who have experienced abuse at times feel silenced and powerless. Children are able to express their own truths through song writing. Through songwriting a child is able to tell their own story the way they want to. Giving the child strength and the ability to express them can help the child move forward from their horrible childhood experiences.

When a child deals with a traumatic event that affects them for the rest of their life they begin to have a hard time trusting adults. “Abuse by a primary caregiver damages the most fundamental relationship as a child—that you will safely, reliably get your physical and emotional needs met by the person who is responsible for your care” ( This is because they fear that another adult will do the same thing to them. Trust is a crucial feature of any relationship between patient and therapist. When children verbalize traumatic events they tend to become stand offish. Re-experiencing the event triggers defense mechanisms. Sometimes children withdraw, shut down, and will not talk for the rest of the session. When children verbalize traumatic events they tend to become stand offish. Re-experiencing the event triggers defense mechanisms. Sometimes children withdraw, shut down, and will not talk for the rest of the session. Children who have endured abuse have many fears. They may fear that their abusers will seek vengeance on them because they told, or that they or someone close to them may be harmed, and they fear that they are not safe and that their abuser will come back for them. Along with feeling fear many children feel guilty, and they feel as though the abuse was their fault. Building a solid relationship with a therapist gives children an opportunity to talk to someone who they feel as though they can trust. Someone who they feel will not judge them or tell anyone their secrets. Therapy gives children not only a way to handle difficult situations but also, find a friend in an adult who they are not fearful of and in time will know they are someone that they can trust and express any problems, fears, and emotions that they may be feeling and lack the ability to actually deal with (Goldman 45). Children have certain rights when it comes to retaining therapy. Some of these rights include the right to an abuse-free environment, the right to ask questions about therapy and receive an answer that they understand, the right to expect that therapy is helpful, and the right to be treated as a unique individual.

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Children come to therapy with the thought that an adult has already misused and abused their power and therefore they believe that all adults are like this. Within a relationship between a therapist and child often the child will try to create the same structure that was found in the abusive family. Many children will try to challenge the therapist, and many can be demanding. Giving the child the ability to ask questions during a therapy session about their treatment and the process gives the child a sense of control. Trust is difficult for children who have been sexually abused. Many children who have experienced sexual abused have been abused by a known or trusted person. This can make the child feel cautious in developing relationships. A relationship with a therapist must be secure enough to allow the child to begin and re-experience the actual abuse. Therapist must realize that they cannot make a child deal with the abuse before the child is ready to do so (Gartner 65). By building a trust worthy relationship with the therapist the child is able to deal and cope with the abuse that they had gone through.

Therapy gives the child the ability to do this. Children who have suffered constant disrespect and abuse feel devalued because of this. This feeling can lead to children always trying to be the best at everything that they do. By trying to be the best they are hoping to gain approval. However, children can also completely withdraw from a situation because they fear they will never measure up to adult expectations. All of this can lead to feeling self-conscious and feeling poor about their self-image. Physical abuse may have an impact on the child and his or her perception of other people, and also his or her behavior towards other people. Some physical effects of child abuse can be damage to the brain, vital organs, eyes, ears, arms, and legs. Some of these physical damages can result into long term physical damages. These may include mental retardation, blindness, deafness, or loss of limb. Abuse can also cause arrested development. Arrested development is when physical and mental developments that are supposed to happen as one matures and begins to grow older stop prematurely ( who have experienced abuse suffer from very low self-esteem. Therapy focuses on post-trauma symptoms and negative behaviors. Many children have overt behaviors that begin to show after the abuse has taken place. Other children may have more internalized post trauma behaviors. These can include extreme shyness and social awkwardness, as well as strained self-confidence in certain areas of their lives.

Overall, a child who has gone through abuse has difficulties attaining a healthy self esteem. Children who have been abused will begin to feel devalued. They will soon begin to notice how a functional family works by viewing their classmates and peers family lifestyles. By comparison the child who is being abused will begin to wonder why this is only happening to them and no one else and will begin to think that there is something wrong with them. This will make the child feel as though they are not worth love and care. Physical abuse has the most affect on a child’s self esteem. Children are built physically different than adults. They are tiny compared to adults and when being abused are unable to fight back to protect themselves. Because their body is being physically violated they feel a sense of helplessness. Due to the fact the child was unable to protect themselves they begin to feel guilty. They see themselves as different from other children because of the abuse and the experiences they have endured. Because of this they feel the need to hide the abuse which causes negative emotions. Sexual abuse may or may not involve penetration but this is the goal for many perpetrators who have abused children. Although not all children react the same way to sexual abuse, the long term effect of the abuse will always serve to severely damage the child’s self view and self esteem. At some point in their life the child will realize that not all children are having sex with adults. The result of this the child begins to feel different and ashamed about what has happened to them. “The person with low self esteem will tend to recall only the reflections or affirmations of their own low self esteem issues in an interaction, and discount any of the positives that have been presented” (Swann 1997).

Swann noticed that people with poor views of themselves will seek out unfavorable responses that will confirm their low self esteem. He also found doing multiple experiments that people who have been through child abuse and have low self esteem prefer to interact more with people who bring them down rather than someone who builds them up. Children who have low self esteem and begin to receive positive comments and compliments not matching the thoughts of them become anxious, disoriented, experience emptiness, and increased worthlessness. This shows how powerful the cycle abuse is and how is effects their self esteem negatively. Children go through multiple critical events at the hand of their abuser. Once the abuser feels as though they have complete control of their victim they feel as though they can do whatever they want to them. The victim begins to believe that they are powerless, not worthy, less than valued and loved, and are an outsider to the rest of the world. An opinion of someone who does not know what the child has been through can be considered irrelevant to the child because, they feel as though the person does not know all the facts as the child understands them. Usually if a child is being abused it is a parent or an adult very close to the child. The abusers opinion will always outweigh an outsider’s opinion because of this. This is not only because of the physical abuse and verbal that the child has been through but also the sense of loyalty they feel they have towards their abuser ( Changing loyalty is proven to be difficult for any child who trusts their parent’s opinion and perception of them whether it be good or bad. Every state has now enacted laws to obtain reports of child abuse moth physical and emotional. In many states doctors, teachers, and therapist are respected to report physical abuse even if they are not sure it is happening. If someone suspects abuse and does not report that it is happening they are found guilty of a misdemeanor. All fifty states provide immunity for people who do file reports on child abuse against the abuser.

Sexually abused children tend to develop disturbances in their own sexual behaviors. Children who have been physically abused have trouble understanding appropriate and inappropriate affectionate gestures ( Studies have shown that children who have been sexually abused especially at a young age tend to continuously display inappropriate sexual behaviors. This includes excessive sexual curiosity and becoming sexually aroused when shown affection by an adult other than their abuser (Miller). This is because, the child is unaware the affection they have been shown is not love. They struggle with coming to grips with the fact that someone they trusted has misused and abused their trust. Children who go through abuse are stripped of their childhood and are affected by the abuse for the rest of their lives. These affects are negative most of the times. People who abuse and take the innocence of children are selfish. They do not consider the long term effects that the abuse they put the child through can cause and in most situations they do not care. Abusers are more focus on control of their victims and being able to tell them what to do how to view themselves. In conclusion, children who have suffered from physical abuse struggle with other things that come with being abused. Although there are many ways for children to cope and move past their bad experiences not all children are the same. Furthermore not all children respond to abuse the same way just like not all children respond to therapy the same way. However, it has shown that therapy has a positive effect on children who have been abused because it allows them to heal through creative therapies, gives the child a safe place to express their feelings, and helps them regain confidence.

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