Saturday, January 2, 2010

Childhood maltreatment

Well folks we can all breathe a sign of relief. Science has spoken, that bastion of truth, honesty, factuality and knowledge has given us its decision. Now we can all go out can pontificate that university studies have shown, scientific evidence suggests Freud was right.

The September 2009 edition of the ‘Australian Psychologist’ journal is a theme edition on Childhood Maltreatment. The lead article by Carr and Francis(2009) reports their research and provides a literature review of the science in this area. They state that there is a “..large body of literature showing an association between childhood maltreatment and PDs. (Personality disorders)” (P151). This has been shown to be the case in both retrospective and longitudinal studies.

How you are treated in childhood effects your subsequent level of psychological maladjustment or lack of it. Science has spoken -- YaaaaaY!!. Adverse child hood experiences can result in emotional problems like personality disorders, anxiety, depression and so forth.

Not uncommonly in the area of childhood maltreatment one finds people distinguish between physical abuse, sexual abuse and emotional abuse. This research found no significant differences between them. There is an assumption by some that physical and sexual abuse are more psychologically damaging than emotional abuse whereas the research suggests this is not the case. REDRESS WA may indeed make this assumption and give more compensation to those who suffered physical and sexual abuse whilst in state care compared to those who “only” suffered emotional abuse.

As counsellors hear clients say from time to time, “I wish she had hit me”. Emotional abuse is much less tangible than a physical hit and this can at times cause the child more angst and difficulties than if the abuse had been more clear with physical hits.

Thus they conclude, “These results also lend support to aetiological theories that link the development of PDs to childhood maltreatment”(P153). University studies now prove that Freud was right! Well maybe not all of his theories right but they support his primary assumption that our childhood experiences effect us psychologically throughout life. Maltreatment in childhood can lead to anxiety, depression in adulthood,

This of course lends support to the psychodynamic theories of psychopathology. Those who claim that personality disorders, anxiety and depression have nothing to do with early childhood experiences now have a large body of science to respond to.

Also in this theme issue was a paper on foster care and recovery from childhood maltreatment. It was stated that there is a large and growing body of evidence that children removed from abusive homes into foster care have a poor psychological outcome in the long term. Whilst it is acknowledged that a children can and do learn some good attachment skills in foster homes there is the very real possibility of negative outcomes as well.

However it was also stated that comparing outcomes from foster homes to outcomes of children who were removed to orphanages then the results are even worse. Children removed to orphanages tended to be psychologically worse off than those moved to foster homes. Again this could have implications for compensation paid through REDRESS WA.

I recall going to a seminar recently given by a well known psychiatrist who spoke on child sexual abuse. He stated that the science is emphatic. A child who discloses sexual abuse to parents (or others) and then is reported to the police that child will be psychologically worse off at the end of the process whether it ends up in court or not and no matter how well it is dealt with.

You can’t get much more of a dramatic collision between the needs of an individual child and the needs a of a society. For the child it is better if it is dealt with in house and not with the police but the society suffers. If the police are informed it is better for the society but the child is worse off.

Family attachments need to

be handled with great care

With Australia’s new mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse laws the needs of the society are being given more importance. What this will do psychologically to a generation of children we will have to wait and see. The money required to deal successfully (or at least to minimise as much damage as possible) with the children of such mandatory reporting is simply too large and will never eventuate, we will see what the long term outcome is.

It also provides further evidence of the power of human attachment. A child will attach to its primary parenting figure whether it is being abused or not. The need to attach clearly outweighs the child’s assessment of the parental treatment afforded it. An attachment allows a child to define who it is at its very core and its basic sense of self. Thus one needs to be very careful how the child is removed from such a parent such that the child is not worse off and more damaged.



  1. So, you're suggesting that the penny is, perhaps not quite dropped in yet but at least it's in the picture?

    *Giggles* Tony? Are you angry at Science?

  2. Roses, I am lost on the penny comment and it possibly dropping.

    I can’t be angry at science Roses as it doesn’t do anything. Science is simply a system of knowledge. It has it strengths and it certainly has its weaknesses but it does not actually do anything for me to be angry about.

    Most people elevate scientific knowledge to a status that it does not deserve but that is the people not the knowledge. You hear people say the same about TA at times. They may say that TA is not the answer to all things or can’t explain everything, or there is more in life than TA. Transactional analysis is simply a body of knowledge about human personality and communication. It does not do any thing or try to be anything.

    Those who make such complaints about TA, psychoanalysis or CBT and so on have probably had a therapist tell them some thing they did not want to hear and thus they criticise the whole system of knowledge as a way of maintaining the status quo.

    But besides all that Roses. I hope you have a grand 2010!


  3. Q: What's a researcher?
    A: Someone you pay $10,000 to tell you what a taxi driver could!

    Imagine: we are effected by our childhood. Great to know. Something that could be established by a moment's reflection on our own experience or that of that of those we know well.

    This kind of thing shows how useless most academic research is to practitioners. There's many a debate to be had about the different forms of knowledge and their use I think.

  4. I was just going with the saying "the penny has dropped", meaning: perhaps we're finally getting the gist of the idea.

    I don't understand why we can't be angry at science if we want to be. It appears to me to be no different at being angry at a system of any kind. Its better than being angry at people - a system can be changed or we can tweak it here and there. People, however, are what and who we are or are becoming and though we are able to change, well, that's a personal choice and individuals only are able to make those choices for ourselves.

    I am angry at the educational system hence we home schooled for 6 years. I am angry at the fact that it takes weeks or months to get in to see a psychotherapist and so am training to be one. We can tweak a 'system' mostly (where there's a will there's a way generally) but I and only I can make a change in me. I think that being angry at a system is far healthier than being angry at self or others.

    Yes - I imagine you thinking that 'anger of systems' = 'transference', i think i'll agree with that. I think that life is not a straight line and imagine lots of bends and U turns while on our journey in, to and through unfamiliar places.

    As annoying and frustrating as it sometimes is, I also think that finding our way is the fun bit.

    I hope you're enjoying your 2010 also - she's a newbie. Lets see how many dints and scratches we can get in her before the next new year!

    Grinning at your face from ear to ear... roses

  5. Tony said, "I can’t be angry at science Roses as it doesn’t do anything. Science is simply a system of knowledge. It has it strengths and it certainly has its weaknesses but it does not actually do anything for me to be angry about."

    roses says, are you kidding?! Systems are the things that we use to build people Tony. Science is a system on which this society is being built and we, the people, are somehow supposed to 'live' in this system that is simply a collection of assumed knowings which, in reality are simply hypotheses (assumptions/guesses) and theories (more assumptions and guesses) - no 'actual' facts at all. Science 'does' a huge amount to and through us.

    It's frightening how much power this thing called 'knowledge' has over people.

    But... I'm still grinning at you... roses

    NB: You're a button pusher aren't you!

  6. Very good blog Tony. Does that mean that attachment theories are now believable?

    In many cases mandatory reporting is a good thing however the ramifications are huge in the wider family and community as you suggest.It may be easier for victims to cut their tounges out.


  7. Hello Evan,
    yes it is amazing the information one can pick up from a taxi driver. I have been a student of epistemology for years and concur with your suggested topic of debate.


  8. OK Roses,
    If you wish to be angry at science then please do so.

    So 2010 is going to be the year of Roses the psychotherapist is it?

    I don't think I have gone out of my way to push any button my fellow Aussie. Maybe its just your "Don't be close" injunction showing Roses and what better way to do that injunction with feeling angry. I should write a post on Roses's Don't be close


  9. I think it could mean that about attachment theories Kenoath.

    Maybe you make a good point with mandatory reporting. If the perpetrator is not directly involved in the family them its consequences could be good.

    However still the child has to deal wth all the legal ramifications thrust on it. For instance the lawyers say don't get the child any therapy until the trial is over and they have good legal reasoning for suggesting such a thing.


  10. its truly amazing the damage emotional abuse does.

    i have a friend whom i have met recently.
    she has confessed to me about being emotionally abused by her alcoholic mom in private.

    When i read her blog..i feel spooked out.

    She talks about reveling in the pain , feeling it to the core as that only brings the true release and harmony.

    she adds on jungian philosophy to it and talks about her shadow...she gives all this a spiritual twist..

    and all i see is a self harmer...very articulate one...brilliant writer...but self harmer nevertheless...

  11. I think you make an interesting point Shraddha.

    That there is a type of self harm that involves no physical damage but one can do it by revelling in the pain as it is put


  12. "OK Roses,
    If you wish to be angry at science then please do so."

    Thank you, if I can be bothered, I will, but you needn't if you don't want to.

    "So 2010 is going to be the year of Roses the psychotherapist is it?"

    No - I still don't know anything yet. The more I learn the more it becomes obvious that I don't know anything! So annoying!

    So... does that mean that sometimes we just have to start and learn as we go? I don't feel safe saying that Tony. It doesn't sound... sensible or something.

    "I don't think I have gone out of my way to push any button my fellow Aussie. Maybe its just your "Don't be close" injunction showing Roses and what better way to do that injunction with feeling angry. I should write a post on Roses's Don't be close"

    It could also be that I don't always say the nicest things. Besides... "Don't be close" injunction makes sense if you're me living my life at the moment. As (I assume) you know Tony, context can often make a difference. It is wise to learn to not get too close. That has been the latest and biggest lesson for me to learn and i must (and will) keep learning it daily.

    Tony? You can write what ever you like, it is after all your blog. I'd be interested regardless of what it's about.

    My question is... what do I care if I don't let systems get too close to me? I don't understand your comment. I don't really care what Science thinks as long as I understand what Science is. Losing touch with reality is a very simple thing for a human being to do. I know, I'm a human being.

    We just came back from sharing dinner with some lovely friends. Gosh there are some lovely people in this world!

    Sweet dreams Mr Graffiti Sir... roses

  13. PS.
    Gosh that's a lovely tatoo on that ladies back. She must be very brave. I've heard that the needle hurts. And i'd probably scratch the scab and wreck the whole thing. It's a lovely design though.

  14. I wonder how much the scientists got paid to come up with that?

    Anyway, I guess sexual and physical abuse are more easily defined by an action or series of actions. A bit more black and white. That even said, people can deny when they have been sexually or physically abused.

    So it is so much more easy to deny emotional abuse. Because in the first instance you can deny and argue whether an action or series of actions is actually emotional abuse.

    As an aside, what is the genetic link to personality disorders?

  15. I always wondered why my pediatrician never reported (the US has mandatory reporting laws), but on the other hand, I always was glad she didn't because to me it seemed like ending up in a state system would HAVE to be worse than being at home. Being taken from home, which kids there understand as a possibility (they would show us filmstrips in school about telling your teacher if someone hits you etc) seemed more terrifying than anything. And I'm grateful that no one ever did report.

    Two, the part about the damage caused makes me sad. I mean, that's it, I guess, I was fucked over young and will never be whole. Sort of a taking away of hope. I hate psychiatry for the whole concept of personality disorders. Not even as much for the stigma as for the taking away of hope.

  16. Yes Kahless

    you a make a good point that people can deny physical and sexual abuse as well.

    Genetic link to PDs? I think each of us has a natural temperament (genetic?) and that will predispose us to certain personality types and not others, but what the research is saying is that environment plays a major role in the development of a PD.

    That is why I dont understand Sara comment on PDs and no hope. The research is saying that there is hope and PDs can be altered significantly through the transference relationship, but it takes time.



  17. It is indeed a lovely tattoo Roses.

    I might write a short post on the Don't be close injunction as a christmas present to you Roses.

    I like the angry Roses. When she gets angry one ducks for cover, waits for the storm to pass and one comes out again.

    I see you as the

    Go Grrrrrll type!

    which is great, lots of Child ego state with energizing anger