Child Abuse Counseling

Learn how the mental health field is helping child abuse victims

child abuse

Witnessing abusive acts toward a parent, or suffering abuse at the hands of a parent or caretaker leaves devastating effects on children, effects that last well into adulthood, perpetuating  repeated cycles of abuse and neglect. (see Childhood Developmental Psychology).

Kathie Mathis, Psy.D, and CEO of Mathis and Associates, said there's little difference between witnessing abuse, and being a child abuse victim - in both cases the child is an abused child.

As a domestic violence counselor (see Domentic Violence Counselor) who works with adult victims, perpetrators, and children, Mathis said that adults, often mothers, will tell her that the child didn't actually see a violent act or other harmful behavior. Perhaps the child was outside playing, or not home at the time.

Mathis tells the mother that the child's physical presence makes no difference.

"Rooms have memory, and when they [children] walk into the room or house, they know exactly what's going on," she said.

According to the Futures Without Violence, 15.5 million U.S. children live in families in which partner violence occurred at least once in the past year, and seven million children live in families in which severe partner violence occurred.

Define Child Abuse...

How to report Child Abuse

For those who are witnessing or experiencing child abuse, the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline is available 24 hours/day at 1.800.4.A.CHILD (1.800.422.4453).

Additional contact information and resources for child abuse victims, parents and professionals working with child abuse victims can be found on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website.

Abuse is either psychological, emotional, sexual, or physical - or a combination of any or all of these. A lot of research focuses on physical acts of abuse because these cases are more measurable, but victims of psychological abuse and degradation often state that this type of abuse can be even more intolerable than physical violence - and the effects more pernicious.

Mathis calls all abuse emotional. Whatever the abuse, it's going to end up there, she said. Any type of abuse damages a person's soul, she added.

The effects of Child Abuse

A growing body of research demonstrates the harmful effects on children. They develop defiance disorders, alcohol and substance abuse issues, do poorly in school, become drop outs, runaways and prostitutes, and show signs of depression (see Depression) and anxiety (see Anxiety), and sometimes attempt suicide.

Long-term effects on their physical health are also becoming more evident. Scientific literature states a strong correlation between the effects of abuse and physical health. Fibromyalgia, chronic pain syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, eating disorders, and overall reduced physical functioning have all been linked to abuse, and can start later in life long after the abuse occurred.

Mathis said that children also struggle with a number of psychological factors stemming from perpetrators making their children an extension of themselves. "The children have learned not to find their own identity because they've had to be what that person has wanted them to be." Perpetrators control their children's lives, interrupting normal developmental growth and not allowing the child to become an individual.

When children watch domestic violence taking place, they take on the traits of either the perpetrator or the victim, Mathis said. Many times abused children become bullies, and if these bullies don't receive any interventions, they grow up to be adult bullies.

That's why bully prevention programs are so important in schools, Mathis said. She works schools and PTAs on educating staff on bullying (see Bullying) issues in addition to working with the school's students directly.

And studies show that girls from abused environments are more likely to enter abusive relationships as adults. So more intervention and education programs are needed at earlier ages to prevent this vicious cycle from continuing.

Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline reports that about 30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children, and 31% of women in prison in the United States were abused as children. Additionally, over 60% of people in drug rehabilitation centers report being abused or neglected as a child.

Much harder to acknowledge is that almost five children die every day as a result of child abuse; more than three out of four are under the age of 4, according to Childhelp.

Mathis, who has over 20 years of working in the domestic violence field, said that as an abuse counselor and advocate, she hears some shocking stories. Such as a woman who told her that she knew her husband slept with her 16-year-old daughter. When Mathis asked why that was okay with her, the woman said that it gave her, the mother, a break from being raped.

"You have to be patient and nonjudgmental," Mathis said. "Individuals come up with different coping mechanisms to survive."

But there isn't a more rewarding job, Mathis said. "You're giving children a brighter future. The rewards come from those on whom you made a difference, no matter how small."

She described a patient who was 16-years-old when she first sought help, and Mathis was able to remove the girl from a situation that involved an abusive father. Now 19, the young woman calls or e-mails Mathis every year on a special anniversary date, marking the point where the girl was taken from the abusive environment. She tells Mathis how she's alive today because of her, and how she's going to be an awesome woman because of her, and how thankful she feels toward Mathis.

"Who wouldn't want a job where you're making this kind of difference?"Mathis asked.

Because child abuse counseling is complex, and effective counseling for abused kids is not covered extensively in traditional counseling or therapy programs, Mathis recommends getting state certified in domestic violence and abuse. Each state has its own certification requirements for becoming a specialist in this field.

Although certification doesn't require a specific degree, a background in psychology is highly desirable. If you are interested in working with abused children, impacting and changing lives, request degree information from schools offering counseling degrees.

Counseling Schools & Colleges
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  • With 100,000+ students, it's the largest private, nonprofit university in the nation.
  • Since 1971, its mission has been to develop Christ-centered men and women with the values, knowledge, and skills essential for impacting tomorrow’s world.
  • Offers over 230 programs online, from the certificate to the doctoral level.
  • The student-faculty ratio is 25:1, and 42.3% of its classes have fewer than 20 students.
  • The average freshman retention rate, an indicator of student satisfaction, is 76.5%.
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  • With 100,000+ students, it's the largest private, nonprofit university in the nation.
  • Since 1971, its mission has been to develop Christ-centered men and women with the values, knowledge, and skills essential for impacting tomorrow’s world.
  • Offers over 230 programs online, from the certificate to the doctoral level.
  • The student-faculty ratio is 25:1, and 42.3% of its classes have fewer than 20 students.
  • The average freshman retention rate, an indicator of student satisfaction, is 76.5%.
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  • Accredited
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  • Phoenix Career Services™ help students find careers that match their interests & map out a personalized career plan.
  • Mentorships & networking opportunities available through Alumni Association of 800,000+ graduates.
  • Flexible start date and class schedules.
  • 100+ locations and online options.
  • Offers special military rates and special advisors who have a military background.
  • Students can earn credits for applicable military training and education.
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  • Phoenix Career Services™ help students find careers that match their interests & map out a personalized career plan.
  • Mentorships & networking opportunities available through Alumni Association of 800,000+ graduates.
  • Flexible start date and class schedules.
  • 100+ locations and online options.
  • Offers special military rates and special advisors who have a military background.
  • Students can earn credits for applicable military training and education.
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  • Good for Working Adults
  • Online Programs
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  • 95% alumni satisfaction rate.
  • Currently holds more than 500 professional alliances, including 19 of the top Fortune 100 companies.
  • Potential students may preview a free, one-week mini course to get an accurate impression of the student experience.
  • Courses are taught by expert faculty, with 86% of professors possessing a doctoral degree.
  • Offers credit for prior experience and learning, as well as scholarships, accelerated programs, and several other ways to help reduce tuition costs.
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  • 95% alumni satisfaction rate.
  • Currently holds more than 500 professional alliances, including 19 of the top Fortune 100 companies.
  • Potential students may preview a free, one-week mini course to get an accurate impression of the student experience.
  • Courses are taught by expert faculty, with 86% of professors possessing a doctoral degree.
  • Offers credit for prior experience and learning, as well as scholarships, accelerated programs, and several other ways to help reduce tuition costs.
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  • Online Programs
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  • Ranked #23 in National Universities in the 2014 edition of Best Colleges from U.S. News and World Report.
  • Founded in 1834, its 340 acre campus is located in Winston-Salem, N.C.
  • Its student-to-faculty ratio is 11:1, and 58.6% of its classes have fewer than 20 students.
  • The average freshman retention rate is 94%.
  • Its stated mission is “to educate the whole person, graduating students who seek purpose-filled lives while building a community dedicated to serving humanity in the spirit of our motto, Pro Humanitate.
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  • Ranked #23 in National Universities in the 2014 edition of Best Colleges from U.S. News and World Report.
  • Founded in 1834, its 340 acre campus is located in Winston-Salem, N.C.
  • Its student-to-faculty ratio is 11:1, and 58.6% of its classes have fewer than 20 students.
  • The average freshman retention rate is 94%.
  • Its stated mission is “to educate the whole person, graduating students who seek purpose-filled lives while building a community dedicated to serving humanity in the spirit of our motto, Pro Humanitate.
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  • Accredited
  • Online Programs
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
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  • Listed on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll in 2013, for the sixth consecutive year.
  • Designated a 2015 Military Friendly School by Victory Media for the 4th consecutive year.
  • Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
  • Main campus located in Chicago, Illinois with additional campuses in Southern California, Washington D.C., and online.
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  • Listed on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll in 2013, for the sixth consecutive year.
  • Designated a 2015 Military Friendly School by Victory Media for the 4th consecutive year.
  • Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
  • Main campus located in Chicago, Illinois with additional campuses in Southern California, Washington D.C., and online.
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  • Good for Working Adults
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  • Lets undergrad students try classes before paying any tuition.
  • In a 2013 survey, 83% of students said they would recommend the university to others.
  • Most degree-seeking online and campus-based students are adult learners with families and students who work while pursuing higher education.
  • Average class sizes is 18 for undergraduate and 13 for graduate-level courses.
  • Founded in 1937 in Davenport, Iowa as the American Institute of Commerce (AIC).
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  • Lets undergrad students try classes before paying any tuition.
  • In a 2013 survey, 83% of students said they would recommend the university to others.
  • Most degree-seeking online and campus-based students are adult learners with families and students who work while pursuing higher education.
  • Average class sizes is 18 for undergraduate and 13 for graduate-level courses.
  • Founded in 1937 in Davenport, Iowa as the American Institute of Commerce (AIC).
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  • Formed in 2001, it has 28 locations across the United States.
  • Offers customized blend format of online and campus classes.
  • Extensive activity in the local campus communities.
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  • Formed in 2001, it has 28 locations across the United States.
  • Offers customized blend format of online and campus classes.
  • Extensive activity in the local campus communities.
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  • Good for Working Adults
  • Online Programs
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
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  • Ranked among the Best Online Graduate Business Programs and Education Programs in 2015 by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Financial aid is available for students who quality, with more than $1,000,000 through 10 scholarships.
  • Offers 24/7 student services, including financial aid help, course registration, and career counseling.
  • Students may opt in for a two week, risk-free trial period.
  • Active-duty military, veterans, and Veteran’s Administration employees can save 15% on tuition.
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  • Ranked among the Best Online Graduate Business Programs and Education Programs in 2015 by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Financial aid is available for students who quality, with more than $1,000,000 through 10 scholarships.
  • Offers 24/7 student services, including financial aid help, course registration, and career counseling.
  • Students may opt in for a two week, risk-free trial period.
  • Active-duty military, veterans, and Veteran’s Administration employees can save 15% on tuition.
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  • Online Programs
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  • Transferable Credits
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  • Founded in 1949, Grand Canyon University is a premier, private, accredited, nondenominational Christian university located in Phoenix, Arizona
  • Its student-faculty ratio is 16:1 and 33.9% of its classes have fewer than 20 students.
  • As a Christian university, the school encourages students to find their purpose in Christ, with an emphasis on applying Christian values and ethics to the workplace.
  • 65% of students have cars on campus, and alcohol is not permitted for students of legal age.
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  • Founded in 1949, Grand Canyon University is a premier, private, accredited, nondenominational Christian university located in Phoenix, Arizona
  • Its student-faculty ratio is 16:1 and 33.9% of its classes have fewer than 20 students.
  • As a Christian university, the school encourages students to find their purpose in Christ, with an emphasis on applying Christian values and ethics to the workplace.
  • 65% of students have cars on campus, and alcohol is not permitted for students of legal age.
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  • Good for Working Adults
  • Accredited
  • Online Programs
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Accelerated Programs
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
3 Programs in
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  • A member of The Russell Group of 24 UK research-led universities.
  • Ranked in the top 1% of higher education institutions worldwide.
  • Teaches students are from over 160 countries worldwide.
  • Holds full accreditation with degrees widely recognized internationally.
  • Degrees pursued online will look the same as degrees pursued on campus.
  • Its Royal Charter has allowed it to independently award bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees since 1903.
  • Over 6,000 international students on campus.
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  • A member of The Russell Group of 24 UK research-led universities.
  • Ranked in the top 1% of higher education institutions worldwide.
  • Teaches students are from over 160 countries worldwide.
  • Holds full accreditation with degrees widely recognized internationally.
  • Degrees pursued online will look the same as degrees pursued on campus.
  • Its Royal Charter has allowed it to independently award bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees since 1903.
  • Over 6,000 international students on campus.
Show more [+]
  • Online Programs