Sexual Abuse and Play Therapy
Child sexual abuse can damage children physically, emotionally and behaviourally. It can shatter a child’s world and sense of safety. The majority of children who experience child sexual abuse experience a variety of problems, some of which extend into adulthood (Rutter & Taylor (eds), 2002).
The primary harmful effects of childhood sexual abuse are psychological.
Sexually abused children are more likely than other children to:
- Have a regression in behaviour, school performance, or obtaining developmental milestones
- Have inappropriate sexualised behaviours
- Become clingy or irritable
- Have disturbances in sleep and/or eating
- Have learning and social problems at school
- Have poor self-esteem
- Be self-destructive or aggressive
- Start bedwetting and/or soiling beyond the usual age (WHO, 2017).
How you can help
- Tell your child that you believe them.
- Tell them you do not blame them and you are glad they told you.
- Reassure and support them, tell them you love them.
- Tell them you will try and keep them safe.
- Try to understand as much as you can about the effects of child sexual abuse so that you can best support yourself and your child.
- Access professional support for your child.
How Play Therapy can help
- For children, play is their natural form of expression – a special language which is spoken through toys. Through play, children communicate what they cannot with words (Ater, in Landreth, 2001).
- Stimulating the right hemisphere of the brain, which responds to non-verbal modalities such as play, art, music and sandplay therapy, assists in the processing of trauma (Gil, 2006).
- Through using play to express their abuse, children can stay emotionally safe by, for example, making the toy feel the pain rather than themselves, or by making a toy the abuser (Ater, in Landreth, 2001).
- Children learn to come to an acceptance of what has happened to them, and learn new ways of coping to protect themselves from further abuse (Cattanach, 1992, in Landreth, 2001).