Child Abuse Counseling Career

What is Child Abuse Counseling?

For many of us, the thought of our childhood brings back happy memories. We may remember icy dips in a backyard pool on hot summer days, or a raucous snowball fight of a nippy winter afternoon. The thought of childhood might bring back memories of family gatherings, holidays, and important milestones. Even the times that we got in trouble as a child, like when we carved our brothers’ initials into the new coffee table, we can laugh about years later.

Some children, however, may not be lucky enough to have such happy memories. Thought of their childhood may bring back traumatizing thoughts of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

Child abuse counseling is a special field of counseling that focuses on treating children that have suffered at the hands of a trusted loved one. Patients of child abuse psychologists might be victims of abuse themselves, or they might have witnessed a loved one being abused, such as a parent or sibling.

As a career, child abuse counseling can be as difficult as they come. Professionals will often witness the marks and scars on children – visible or otherwise – on children each and every day of their professional lives. They might recognize signs of a few different common types of child abuse. Here are a few examples of the atrocities that child abuse counselors may bear witness to:

Physical Abuse

  • Hitting
  • Kicking
  • Punching
  • Pushing

Emotional Abuse

  • Derogatory statements
  • Screaming
  • Name calling
  • Exposure to disturbing images or situations
  • Unreasonable expectations

Sexual Abuse

  • Fondling
  • Intercourse
  • Oral sex
  • Taking pornographic photographs or movies
  • Exposure to sexual material or acts

Neglect

  • Rejection
  • Inadequate medical attention, food, clothing, or shelter
  • Leaving a young child unattended

There was once a time that child abuse, as we define it today, was not talked about. In the case of physical abuse, for instance, a parent striking a child was not uncommon and even expected at certain times. In 1875, however, this attitude began to change, when Mary Ellen Wilson, an eight year old little girl was found to have been badly abused by her step-mother. Etta Angell Wheeler, a missionary and social worker, was asked by a neighbor to investigate the case. Upon finding evidence of abuse and neglect, Wheeler turned to the local American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, because there were no laws restricting child abuse at that time. Eventually, Mary Ellen Wilson was removed from her home and adopted by Wheeler and her family.

This case was one of the most shocking of its time, and it ultimately led to the creation of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Today, we now have laws against all types of child abuse. However, it still remains a big problem, in the United States and across the globe. Child abuse counselors are the compassionate professionals that dedicate their live to trying to reverse the effects of abuse, one little life at a time.

How Do I Become a Child Abuse Counselor?

To become a child abuse counselor you will need to go through a rather rigorous amount of schooling. This includes obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree, then a Master’s Degree, and finally entering into a Doctorate or PhD program. If you are serious about entering into this field of study, request information from programs available for you here.

Why Do We Need Child Abuse Counselors?

Child abuse can be one of the most detrimental experiences that can happen to a child. Research has shown that children who are abused are more likely to have low self-esteem, be more emotionally detached, and have substance abuse problems. In many ways, abuse also begets abuse. This means that children – particularly males – who have been victims of abuse are more likely to either become abusers themselves. Female child abuse victims, on the other hand, are more likely to get trapped in abusive relationships as adults.

Child abuse counseling, however, is a method that can be used to reverse the negative effects of child abuse, and stop the vicious cycle.

What Does a Child Abuse Counselor Do?

Child abuse counselors typically work closely with child victims of abuse. They are often called upon to help recognize possible signs of abuse in a child. These signs may vary, depending on the type of abuse:

Physical Abuse

  • Unexplained bruises, cuts, or other injuries
  • Child flinches when touched

Emotional Abuse

  • Withdrawn or overly shy
  • Behavior extremes
  • excessively low self-esteem
  • No attachment to any caregiver

Sexual Abuse

  • Inappropriate touching or fondling of other children
  • Age inappropriate knowledge of sex
  • Trouble sitting or walking
  • Pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection

Neglect

  • Clothes ill fitting, dirty, or inappropriate for weather conditions
  • Poor hygiene
  • Inadequate medical treatment
  • Frequent truancy from school
  • Child left alone for long periods of time

Once a child abuse counselor has an idea of the type of abuse a child has suffered, she will then attempt to get the child to open up about his experience. This is often a difficult task, since abuse is traumatizing to many children, and it can make them leery to trust any adults. Before this next step can be achieved, a child abuse counselor must be able to earn the trust of the abused child. This often takes copious amounts of compassion and patience. A child must usually feel comfortable in the presence of a child abuse counselor.

There are a few ways that a counselor can get an abused child to open up about his experience. First of all, she must be friendly, approachable, and non-judgmental. Many child abuse counselors will also use a concept known as play therapy. This process involves encouraging children to play, which can lead to them opening up about their experiences. A child may be asked to play with a doll, for instance, or draw pictures. More often than not, a child will reveal his experiences while “playing”. For example, a victim of sexual abuse might touch a doll inappropriately, much as his abuser touched him.

Once a child abuse counselor knows more about the type and severity of the abuse, she can then begin treatment. While recovering from abuse, one of the most important things that a child abuse counselor can communicate to her patient is that the abuse was not his fault. She may also need to treat any psychological and emotional problems caused by the abuse, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress syndrome.

A child abuse counselor will also usually work with caregivers, like parents, foster parents, or other legal guardians. She may instruct them on how to act around the child and what to expect during the recovery process.

Where Do Child Abuse Counselors Work?

Child abuse counselors are often employed where abused children need them the most. This might include hospitals, social service offices, domestic violence shelters, foster care centers, children’s homes, and schools. Some child abuse counselors might also choose to open their own private practices as well.

What are the Education Requirements for a Child Abuse Counseling Career?

 Counseling Educational Track
Education Requirements Education Length Available Programs
Undergraduate Work Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Counseling 4 Years Online or Campus
Graduate Work Earn a Master’s Degree in Counseling 5-6 Years Online or Campus
PHD or Doctoral Work Earn a Doctorate in Counseling  7-8 Years Online or Campus

A bachelor’s degree in counseling psychology or social work, with an emphasis on child psychology, is often a great start to a child abuse psychology career. Coursework should cover aspects of counseling, social work, abuse, and childhood development. Some bachelor degree program graduates might be able to work in entry level positions in the child abuse counseling field.

Most individuals pursuing child abuse counseling careers, however, usually choose to earn graduate degrees in this field. Graduate degrees in social work and counseling are also acceptable for individuals trying to become child abuse counselors.

You will also usually be required to become licensed to work as a child abuse counselor. In addition to stringent education requirements, most states will require you to complete 3,000 hours of supervised work experience before you take your state’s counseling licensure examination.

What is the Median Salary of a Child Abuse Counselor?

Child abuse counselors generally fall under the broad category of social workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social workers had a median salary of $42,480 in 2010.

Influences on Child Abuse Counseling
  • Mary Ellen Wilson was one of the first documented cases of severe child abuse in the United States. Because there were no laws or groups that pertained to child abuse, her situation prompted the formation of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
  • Hermine Hug-Hellmuth was the first to use “play therapy” to analyze children.

Additional Resources and Further Reading