Helping Abused and Traumatized Children

(by Eliana Gil, Ph.D.)

The author has worked with sexually abused children and their families for over 33 years. She teaches courses on child maltreatment, play therapy, and family therapy. She is currently the Director of Clinical Services for Childhelp, Inc., and works at the Childhelp Center in Fairfax, VA.


(1) In play therapy, children can identify with objects or symbols, project their thoughts and feelings onto those symbols or objects, and then process difficult, painful, or conflictual material in a protected and safe way that respects defensive mechanisms and pacing.

(2) How to conduct an extended developmental assessment which allows clinicians to evaluate a child's overall functioning, indentify symptomatic behaviors, assess the impact of trauma, and assess the child's phenomenological experience of the abuse, including the perceptions of parental support and guidance. From this assessment, a clinician can then determine therapy plans with specific, measurable goals.

(3) Clinician tools: Play Genogram; Family Genogram; a Sand World; the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL); the Child Sexual Behavior Inventory (CSBI); the Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children; a video describing three kinds of touching: safe, hurtful, and the touching of private parts; the House-Tree-Person drawing, the Draw-a-Person, and the Kinetic Family Drawing; Family Puppet Therapy; the Talking, Feeling, Doing game; using Playmobil hospital toys.

(4) How to teach children to stop unwanted thoughts, using a timer and the replacement of nice memories.

(5) How to deal with four types of parental denial of sexual abuse: denial of facts; denial of awareness; denial of responsibility; and denial of impact. How to educate parents about the nature of abusers who are seductive, initiate sex, and threaten the child into silence.

(6) How the clinician's greatest priority is the safety of the child.

(7) How the parents of abused children often have their own painful histories of childhood abuse.

(8) Connecting with The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA).

(9) How to conduct Posttraumatic Play and Trauma-Focused Play Therapy (TF-PT).

(10) Recognizing dissociation in children as it occurs during play therapy, helping the child to describe it (i.e. "spacing out"), finding out what triggered it (boredom, fatigue, anxiety, fear, etc.), and normalizing it.