Mothers need the support of an individual counselor to help them through the post-disclosure process. Finding out that a child has been sexually abused is a traumatic event for mothers, and the process following disclosure is stressful. Stress related to actual disclosure, daily family stress following disclosure, support of victim, and involvement with professionals and agencies can become chronic. Stress results in negative effects to body, brain, and immune system. These can result in negative health consequences. It is important for the mother to obtain support during this time. Family and friend support is not always forthcoming or helpful in the mother's recovery.
The identity of the perpetrator, age of child, and severity of abuse contribute to predictable reactions in mothers. The mother's coping strategies and support system contribute to her attaining and maintaining physical and mental health following the disclosure. A counselor is a source of support. Ongoing counseling provides a safe place for mothers to process thoughts and feelings, resolve problems, and discuss decisions. Many changes may occur in her life following disclosure. Counteracting stress and maintaining physical health will help mothers to better support the child, model effective coping, and make healthy choices for herself and the family.
It is important to carefully choose a counselor. Before engaging in services, ask for a consultation with the counselor so that you can determine education, training, and experience regarding child sexual abuse. It is important the counselor you choose is well-informed about family systems, the dynamics of sexual abuse, and the potential short and long-term consequences to victim, long-term consequences to mother, and effects on other family members. Some counselors continue to believe myths about mothers, believing them to be non-protective and non-supportive of the child and co-responsible for the abuse.
Following the disclosure, mothers are involved with law enforcement, the court, and possibly social services, depending on the identity of the perpetrator. She will need effective coping skills to navigate this process. If the abuser is her partner, social services will determine her ability to parent the child victim and other children. Her use of healthy coping strategies and lifestyle changes that counteract the stress will assist in her physical and emotional health. Since the mother is the child's primary support, this is necessary for the child's recovery. Other components of therapy can be: communication skills, assertiveness training, and abuse prevention information.
It is important that the child engage in counseling as soon as possible after the disclosure, and that the therapist is experienced in assessing and treating child victim needs. Conjoint therapy sessions with mother and child are recommended on an occasional basis so that relationship problems can be addressed. The child may be angry at mother, believing her to have known and not protected her. This is an important therapeutic issue following disclosure as the child's belief in the mother's support is integral to her recovery.
Theravive is a network of licensed therapists and psychologists committed to helping people receive the best health care available. Through building bridges with others, we continually strive to lower mental health stigma.