Correlates of successful therapy reported by adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse

Nancy Jo Melucci, University of Pennsylvania


Recent research has focused much attention on the plight of people who were sexually victimized as children. Etiology and noxious effects have been well-investigated and described in professional journals and books and in media accessible to the layperson (Finkelhor, 1986; Gelinas, 1983). What is lacking is more information on how helping professionals may more effectively treat the adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse. This study identified factors associated with helpful and not helpful therapies by investigating the psychotherapy experiences of a group of adults (N = 50) who reported being sexually abused as children. A carefully constructed questionnaire was administered to obtain retrospective evaluations. Respondents were able to evaluate multiple psychotherapy experiences (helpful versus not helpful) and different modalities (individual versus group therapy and support groups). Support groups are not considered therapy per se but appear to have therapeutic effects on participants. A series of paired t-tests and sign rank tests were performed to identify variables specifically associated with helpful and not helpful psychotherapy. These tests were also used to compare the benefit derived from the different modalities. Finally, a factor analysis was done in order to discover dynamic and process conditions of successful individual psychotherapy. According to the respondents individual therapists who successfully treat survivors of child sexual abuse used an identifiable group of skills: Empowerment, reparenting, orientation to client experience, feminist theory, conceptualization, and behavioral modeling. No preference was established for individual versus group psychotherapy regarding perceived overall benefit and positive changes gained. As contrasted with individual psychotherapy, respondents reported a slightly lower distress level when starting group therapy. There was a preference in this sample for individual psychotherapy over support groups in terms of overall benefit gained. A combination of individual and group therapy was perceived as very beneficial by some respondents.

Subject Area

Academic guidance counseling|Womens studies|Psychotherapy

Recommended Citation

Melucci, Nancy Jo, "Correlates of successful therapy reported by adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse" (1992). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9227724.