Abuse of any sort can be extremely detrimental to someone’s long-term mental health and well-being.
In the case of children, those who witness abuse toward another person, either in a family situation or in the context of a community under attack, can feel powerless and helpless to protect or be protected. In later life they can find themselves drawn to, or seen as being identified with those who are perpetrators or survivors.
If children themselves are subjected to abuse they may well experience lifelong difficulties with forming trusting relationships. This will be especially true the younger they were at the time this was happening, and whether or not the abuse was sustained and chronic.
Sexual abuse can be particularly emotionally as well as physically damaging. The breaking of a sexual boundary is confusing and frightening – a child may be controlled into keeping a secret and threatened with punishment if this is revealed, making the child feel guilty and bad or sometimes specially chosen.
In later life adults may have memories of earlier abuse suddenly reactivated, sometimes if they have children, or the perpetrator of abuse has children, who become a similar age to themselves when they were abused. Survivors of abuse can often continue to feel that they were to blame for what happened and may seek to repeat a pattern of expecting current relationships to be violent or coercive.
Quite often someone may come for help with other unrelated difficulties such as feelings of depression or hopelessness, or problems with drug or alcohol dependency. They may initially not connect these with early traumatic experiences.
How the Tavistock and Portman can help
We offer services to children, adolescents and adults who have experienced abuse.
Young children will be seen together with those who are looking after them and often with other professionals who are safeguarding their welfare. They may be seen with their family and also offered individual therapy, which can include psychotherapy, CBT and EMDR sessions.
Some youngsters may seem more resilient than others and may respond to a short intervention. Others may find that many aspects of their lives are disturbed, both at home and at school and they may well require longer and more intensive help before they can feel safer and emotionally more robust.
Adults and older adolescents will have an opportunity to think with a clinician together during a number of consultations about how best they might be helped.
Talking and thinking about what has happened can be very painful and frightening and bring back feelings of panic, helplessness and disgust. We hope to help someone to face and work through this trauma so that a person can understand themselves more fully and be less prone to feeling ruled by what has happened to them. This may be a long and difficult process.