Healing the echoes of the past: Survivors of childhood abuse

As a therapist, I often witness the profound impact childhood abuse and neglect leave on individuals well into adulthood.


These experiences, whether physical, emotional, or sexual, can shatter a child's sense of safety and security, leading to a constellation of emotional and psychological struggles for people as adults. Yet, there is immense hope for healing and growth. The journey towards healing and reclaiming one’s sense of self is both deeply personal and universally challenging. For many people, therapy becomes a beacon of hope, a place where the fragmented pieces of self can be carefully, tenderly put back together.

Shadows of trauma

Research highlights the significant link between childhood maltreatment and adult mental health. The research suggests a higher prevalence of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance use disorders in adults with a history of abuse or neglect.

Breaking the cycle of pain

Therapy provides a safe and supportive space for adult survivors to begin their healing journey. Here are some key areas of focus: The therapeutic relationship is central to this process, providing a foundation of trust and empathy that enables individuals to delve into deeply buried emotions and memories. It’s not just about recounting the past but about understanding its impact on the present. Therapists often use a variety of approaches, including cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), and narrative therapy, to help individuals reframe their experiences and begin the process of healing. 

Building self-compassion

Many survivors struggle with self-blame and negative self-beliefs. Through therapy techniques like cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), survivors can learn to challenge these distorted thoughts and cultivate self-compassion. The path to recovery is fraught with challenges, including confronting painful memories, dealing with triggers, and navigating complex emotions like shame, guilt, and anger. Yet, it is also a path filled with moments of profound insight, empowerment, and liberation. Survivors often discover inner strengths they never knew they had, develop healthier coping mechanisms, and build meaningful relationships based on trust and respect. 

Processing trauma

Trauma can be deeply stored in the body. Therapy modalities like EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) can help survivors process traumatic memories and release their emotional hold.

Healthy relationships

Abuse can leave a lasting imprint on how survivors navigate relationships. Therapy can equip them with communication skills and help them develop healthy boundaries to create fulfilling connections.

Finding the right therapist

It's crucial to find the right therapist for you to talk through these thoughts and feelings, but it can be difficult to know where to start. Looking for a therapist who specialises in treating trauma, with experience in modalities like CBT, EMDR, or trauma-informed therapy would be a great place to start. Therapy can be a space where survivors learn to set boundaries and advocate for themselves, skills that are invaluable in creating a life that feels safe and fulfilling.

The path to healing

Healing from childhood trauma is a journey, not a destination. There will be setbacks, but therapy can empower survivors to rewrite their narrative and build a life filled with resilience and hope. Recovering from childhood abuse as an adult in therapy is a profoundly brave journey towards healing and self-discovery. It is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the transformative power of compassionate, professional support.

For anyone embarking on this journey, remember that you are not alone, and healing is possible. With each step forward, you are moving closer to a future where the pain of the past no longer holds sway over your life, a future where you can embrace your worth and potential with open arms.

Additional resources:


  • Ehring, T., Welboren, R., Morina, N., Wicherts, J.M., Freitag, J. and Emmelkamp, P.M., 2014. Meta-analysis of psychological treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder in adult survivors of childhood abuse. Clinical psychology review, 34(8), pp.645-657.
  • Katz, C. and Nicolet, R., 2022. “If only I could have stopped it”: Reflections of adult-child sexual abuse survivors on their responses during the abuse. Journal of interpersonal violence, 37(3-4), pp.NP2076-NP2100.
  • Sheridan, G. and Carr, A., 2020. Survivors’ lived experiences of posttraumatic growth after institutional childhood abuse: An interpretative phenomenological analysis. Child abuse & neglect, 103, p.104430.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Liverpool L17 & L7
Written by Gemma Sands, PGDip
Liverpool L17 & L7

Gemma is a Psychotherapist working in Liverpool and remotely online. She works as a suicide prevention therapist, as a Counsellor in a cancer support charity and also runs a small but flourishing private practice. To find out more or for information on how to work with gemma, visit therapywithgemma.com

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