PDF Child Sexual Abuse: The Search for Healing

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The book was a bestseller in North America and Europe. The 20th Anniversary Edition came out in and included an updated resource guide, additional stories and research.

Related Rituals

The book has been criticized for being used primarily by incompetent therapists, [3] for creating in children false memories of abuse, [4] as well as for its authors' lack of qualifications [4] [5] for creating an industry which has isolated and separated family members despite having no positive proof the abuse occurred, [6] and for destructively replacing individual identities with that of a "survivor".

The Courage to Heal is written by Ellen Bass, a poet and creative writing teacher and her student Laura Davis, [9] an author and incest survivor. Bass worked as a counselor and group facilitator with survivors of child sexual abuse. Bass is the wife of a survivor of child sexual abuse and Davis was sexually abused as a child and participated in one of Bass' creative writing workshops.

Recommended Reading for Sexual Abuse Victim Survivors

From this idea, the two developed methods to assist students in recovering memories of abuse in childhood. Neither Bass nor Davis have any training in psychotherapy or science , and they state that nothing in the book is based on any psychological theories. They have defended their lack of training, saying that a PhD is not necessary "to listen carefully and compassionately to another human being". Bass and Davis still define themselves as healers and experts in the area of child sexual abuse, due to leading workshops with victims.

The book includes in-depth interviews, writing exercises and a resource list. The third edition featured an afterword called "Honoring the Truth: A Response to the Backlash", which was added to respond to and rebut negative reactions to the book.

Sexual Abuse—Its Prevalence

The section has been characterized as an effort to dismiss all research contradicting the book as being part of a backlash against victims of incest. The book was written as a response to the authors' frequent encounters with women who were the victims of sexual abuse during their childhood and adolescence, and is predicated on the belief that extreme childhood trauma, of which sexual abuse is one, is spontaneously repressed.

The authors suggest that people experiencing dysfunction in their lives including a wide-ranging set of problems such as depression , anxiety , alcoholism , drug addiction , dysfunctional relationships, dissociative identity disorder , self-injury and suicidal thoughts or feel there was something traumatic in their childhood should investigate these feelings; Bass and Davis also present what they believe is a path to healing from the trauma of alleged childhood abuse. The latest edition features language more inclusive of male sexual abuse victims. The original edition of the book contained an influential chapter discussing satanic ritual abuse though satanic ritual abuse is now considered a moral panic , the case specifically discussed in The Courage to Heal is that of Judith Spencer, which has since been discredited [12] and the discredited autobiography Michelle Remembers - citing the latter approvingly along with other alleged survivor stories of satanic ritual abuse.

The Courage to Heal was part of the vision that childhood sexual abuse could be discovered with no corroborating evidence beyond a vague set of symptoms. Psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson state that basic errors regarding the science of memory have never been corrected between editions; in the third edition, the book stated that for a small number of women their symptoms may have originated in emotional rather than sexual abuse.

Reception of the book was "polarizing".


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The book was a bestseller in North America and Europe, and has been described as "the bible of the 'survivors' movement". A review states that " Rather, survivors who have read the book have reported to me that it was helpful in dealing with the effects of the abuse. A review by psychologist and clinician Susan Contratto states that the book was perceived as dangerous by the antifeminist backlash since it legitimized stories of abuse as told by the survivors.

Bass and Davis have no formal training or qualifications in psychiatry , psychology or any form of treatment for mental illness.

Women's Health Care Physicians

They accuse the authors of basic errors regarding the science of memory that they say have never been corrected between editions; in the third edition, the book stated that for a small number of women their symptoms may have originated in emotional rather than sexual abuse. McHugh , professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University and award-winning researcher in the field of memory describes the book as the "bible of incompetent therapists". Elizabeth Loftus , an award-winning researcher on memory, stated that the book was certainly very comforting to individuals living with memories of abuse, but questioned the effect it would have on people who do not have such memories, and suggested The Courage to Heal may be one of many sources of false memories for some individuals.

I struggle with my own demons. A few years back, Lester said, a close family member was convicted on several child porn charges, giving her some perspective on her own issues. They also have many dimensions to them, and they are not all the same. Some struggle with their demons; some make friends with them. For many who have suffered from child sex abuse, the burden of the horrific experience can have a lasting impact.

Anxiety, substance abuse, depression, poor body image, guilt, shame, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder can be common. Families can have a hard time accepting that a member has been molested. Healing begins at different stages for different people. Sexual concerns often emerge naturally after survivors have resolved feelings of anger and fear about the abuse, and begun to feel better about themselves.

For many therapists and survivors, addressing sexual issues is seen as a final stage in sexual abuse recovery, but sexual concerns come up at all points in sexual abuse recovery. You may want to work with a therapist who specializes in sexual abuse treatment. Survivors can greatly benefit from joining a therapy or support group and spending time with friends who are familiar with healing from sexual abuse. It takes time and effort to develop a positive sexual self-concept.

Not only do we have to watch for the false conclusions and negative beliefs about ourselves that resulted from the abuse, we also need to replace old ways of thinking with new, healthy ones. Begin your journey only when you feel ready for it.


  1. The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Ellen Bass.
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  5. Adult Manifestations of Childhood Sexual Abuse - ACOG.
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  7. The aftermath of rape and sexual trauma?
  8. Go slowly and trust yourself. Sexual healing is usually never as fast as survivors and intimate partners would wish. Sexual healing is a profound personal growth work. During the process you will probably look closely at who you are, how you feel, what has happened to you in the past, and how you now take care of yourself and relate to others. Wendy Maltz, Allender, Dan B. Why Me?

    From Victim to Survivor: Find Your X…but First, Find Your (Wh)Y? - Lauren Book - TEDxOxford

    Daugherty, Lynn B. Davis, Laura Lew, Mike Muller, Wayne Nancy Dimock Mike Lew Some common situations survivors may find themselves in that make them realize they should seek support include: I am reacting unusually to situations differently than before.


    • The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse.
    • Child sex abuse: Finding a healing path for victims.
    • Promoting Healing and Well-Being for Victims of Child Sexual Abuse?
    • ‘It never stops shaping you’: the legacy of child sexual abuse – and how to survive it.
    • Wounds That Time Won’t Heal: The Neurobiology of Child Abuse - Dana Foundation.
    • Goddess Abides: A Novel.

    I am having emotional or sexual problems that are not getting any better. New circumstances have made me more aware of past experiences.

    The emotional aspect

    Common Challenges for Adult Survivors Intimate Relationships and Personal Boundaries Trust is a crucial issue for many survivors throughout their lives because it was broken as such a young age by the very people who were supposed to care the most for them. Anger Some adult survivors report problems with anger. Depression Many adult survivors suffer from depression as a result of childhood sexual abuse. Physical Counseling. You will find resources at the end of this document. Keeping a journal.