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I Believe You – The Importance of the Counselling Relationship in Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse

    Childhood sexual abuse is rarely out of the news these days.  In the last month the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse looking into what has gone wrong within institutions has been launched and members of a paedophile ring in Norwich have been found guilty.  The NSPCC suggest that 1 in 20 children have been abused, with over 23,000 sexual offences against children recorded in the UK in 2012/13[1].  Sadly this is just the tip of the iceberg as most sexual abuse goes unreported.  Whilst the hope is that things are changing, fear of not being believed, the secrecy that often accompanies abuse and the unfortunate shaming which can take place, make disclosing abuse a complex and often terrifying process and there are many survivors who continue to suffer in silence.

    I BELIEVE YOUObviously as a counsellor I would recommend counselling as one way of tackling the effects of childhood sexual abuse.  Counselling offers the opportunity to try and piece together what are often fragments – sensations, smells, feelings or memories which are remembered only in part.  Abuse occurs within relationships and heals within relationships and learning to build a safe and trusting alliance with a counsellor can be enormously helpful. Being believed is likely to be a huge step on the journey towards healing from the effects of abuse, which you may have been living with for a very long time.

    It isn’t easy learning to trust after abuse.  Counsellors are aware of this and recognise that in the early stages, there may be an imbalance of power in that (a) by virtue of coming to counselling you are in a vulnerable state as opposed to the counsellor who won’t have that same sense of vulnerability and (b) you may feel your counsellor has the ability to heal you rather than helping empower you to heal yourself.  Over time and as the counselling relationship develops, this imbalance should equalise with both parties developing an alliance which feels collaborative, mutual and equal.  It’s important to highlight this though as sometimes the power imbalance can resemble the dynamics of abuser and survivor.

    It’s all well and good me talking about the importance of the counselling relationship but if you’d like some evidence to back this up you could look at the recent joint study by the universities of Manchester and Liverpool which showed that a good therapeutic relationship improves the likelihood of a successful outcome whilst doing the reverse if the therapeutic relationship isn’t good.

    Meta-analysis carried out by Lambert (1992) [2] also supports the importance of the therapeutic relationship and Wampold (2001) in his book The Great Psychotherapy Debate found that the counselling relationship is more important than any technique that might be offered.

    As a final thought, although the importance of the counselling relationship cannot be underestimated, I believe you also have infinite resources to help heal yourself.  This again is supported by research suggesting that when looking at what makes therapy successful, 40% can be attributed to your own resources.  To me that means the collaboration between the counsellor and client is a potent recipe for healing.

    Please get in touch if you’d like to make an appointment.  You can call me on 07578 839779 or email  My office is on the outskirts of Ipswich, within easy reach of Felixstowe, Woodbridge and surrounding areas and has free parking.

    [1] Jütte, S. et al (2014) How safe are our children? 2014. London: NSPCC

    [2] Lambert, M. J. (1992) Psychotherapy Outcome Research: Implications for Integrative and Eclectic Therapists in Norcross, C. and Goldfried, M. (Eds) Handbook of Psychotherapy Integration, Basic Books, United States. Ch 3


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