Adolescents’ experiences of psychotherapy following child sexual abuse

Submitted: April 27, 2022
Accepted: May 6, 2023
Published: July 4, 2023
Abstract Views: 1310
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The aim of this study was to explore adolescents’ experiences of psychotherapy following sexual abuse, complementing those studies that focus on outcomes and measurement of symptom change across the course of therapy and building on recent studies that focus on the process of psychotherapy for young people who have experienced sexual abuse, from their perspective. Recent reviews have highlighted the need for tailored approaches to therapy. Research is needed that focuses on young people’s experiences of therapy to help develop such tailored approaches. In this study, 16 young people aged 15-18 years who were attending specialist sexual violence therapeutic services were interviewed. Using thematic analysis, six themes were identified as reflecting their experiences of therapy following sexual abuse. Young people spoke of not wanting to attend; the importance of choice and not feeling pressured in both initially attending and in how the therapy unfolded; how helpful it was to talk; the centrality of the relationship with their therapist; the benefit of attending a specialist service; how helpful it was when the therapist explained things; and finally, the coping skills they learned in the therapeutic work. A key learning from the study is the importance of respecting young people's autonomy following such violations of trust and psychological integrity. The study highlights how engagement in therapy may be experienced as a re-enactment of an experience that was forced on the young person. Further qualitative research exploring this phenomenon could guide therapists on how to minimise such re-enactments in therapeutic work.

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Supporting Agencies

Tusla Child and Family Agency
Andrina Monaghan, Dublin City University

Andrina Monaghan is a psychotherapist and was working as a research assistant in Dublin City University at the time of this study.

Christina Treacy, Dublin City University

Christina Treacy is a psychotherapist who was working as a research assistant in Dublin City University at the time of this study.

Naoise Delaney, Dublin City University

Naoise Delaney is an educational psychologist in training who was working as a research assistant in Dublin City University at the time of this study.

How to Cite

McElvaney, R., Monaghan, A., Treacy, C., & Delaney, N. (2023). Adolescents’ experiences of psychotherapy following child sexual abuse. Research in Psychotherapy: Psychopathology, Process and Outcome, 26(2). https://doi.org/10.4081/ripppo.2023.630

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