To counsel a child who has come from an abusive home it is imperative for the counselor to know and recognize the signs and effect of abuse before assessment and eventual treatment can occur. One of the greatest plights a child may face during their childhood is abuse. Even afterward the effects of abuse can last a lifetime, but it has no control of how a child will act when they become an adult, though many blame past abuse on current actions.
Knowing the signs is the easiest ways to recognize abuse, especially physical abuse. Because abuse often thrives in privacy it is crucial to know the signs that they try so hard to hide. The signs of physical abuse are not always as eye-catching as a black eye or a broken arm. As plainly stated by Patricia Rushford in her book It Shouldn't Hurt to Be a Kid, “The actual injury is not as important as the way it came about.”1 When one believes that abuse may be occurring it is important to ask the child. It does not have to be a serious “sit down” conversation, but simply asking the child what happened can prove or disprove abuse.
Every child gets injuries, it is a part of growing up and children learn from them. It is when a child is hurt intentionally, when nothing is done after an injury has occurred, or nothing done to stop a preventable injury, that it becomes abuse. Physical signs of abuse are: cuts and bruises, injuries to the neck, head, and stomach as well as the back of the leg and underarm, broken bones, sprains or fractures, injuries healing at different stages, and burns.2 Though obvious injuries frequently tell the world about abuse, it is often hidden in areas that are easy to cover up.
The psychological effects and signs of abuse can last a lifetime depending not only on the intensity of the abuse, but also of the child and their ability to handle difficult situations. Psychological effects can be seen as a child who worries about adult-like problems or a child who is obsessively protective/motherly towards their younger siblings. Other examples of the psychological effects of abuse are: anxiety or depression, repetitive nightmares or flashbacks, aggressive behavior, drug or alcohol abuse (even at a young age) and eating disorders.3
Few abused children will tell the truth about what their real life is like. Often they are told, even forced, to lie when asked about injuries. They will lie to protect the people that they love, even if they are the ones hurting them. There are also cases where a child has endeavored to tell others about abuse but the people that they told did not take them seriously. Constantly lying or being forced to lie can make it seem easier to lie than to tell the truth, especially if lying is what tends to make their abuser happy.
To begin assessment of an abused child the first task is to determine the direct effect of the abuse. The counselor must be abuse informed, but it is important for them to not be abuse focused. Not everything will relate back to...