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J Child Sex Abus. 2011 Jul-Aug;20(4):435-66. doi: 10.1080/10538712.2011.588188.

Healing from childhood sexual abuse: a theoretical model.

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Kent State University, Ohio, USA.


Childhood sexual abuse is a prevalent social and health care problem. The processes by which individuals heal from childhood sexual abuse are not clearly understood. The purpose of this study was to develop a theoretical model to describe how adults heal from childhood sexual abuse. Community recruitment for an ongoing broader project on sexual violence throughout the lifespan, referred to as the Sexual Violence Study, yielded a subsample of 48 women and 47 men who had experienced childhood sexual abuse. During semistructured, open-ended interviews, they were asked to describe their experiences with healing from childhood sexual abuse and other victimization throughout their lives. Constructivist grounded theory methods were used with these data to develop constructs and hypotheses about healing. For the Sexual Violence Study, frameworks were developed to describe the participants' life patterns, parenting experiences, disclosures about sexual violence, spirituality, and altruism. Several analytic techniques were used to synthesize the findings of these frameworks to develop an overarching theoretical model that describes healing from childhood sexual abuse. The model includes four stages of healing, five domains of functioning, and six enabling factors that facilitate movement from one stage to the next. The findings indicate that healing is a complex and dynamic trajectory. The model can be used to alert clinicians to a variety of processes and enabling factors that facilitate healing in several domains and to guide discussions on important issues related to healing from childhood sexual abuse.

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