Recovering from childhood sexual abuse: a theoretical framework for practice and research

Z. Chouliara*, T. Karatzias, A. Gullone

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


Accessible summary: Adopting a model of personally meaningful recovery places demands on the therapeutic relationship, on clinical governance and supervision of clinicians. The recovery journey from childhood sexual abuse (CSA) starts at the point of disclosure. Findings support the use of shame-based and compassion-focused interventions with CSA survivors. Research on survivors' experiences of recovering from childhood sexual abuse (CSA) has been limited and focused on those with severe mental health difficulties. This study elicited experiences of recovery from CSA in male and female survivors who have/have not utilized mental health services. The tangible end-point was to propose a theoretical model of personally meaningful recovery. This is a qualitative study, which utilized semi-structured individual interviews following the critical incident technique. Transcripts were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis to identify recurrent themes. A total 22 adult survivors of CSA. Main themes identified were: The Affected Self, Factors Hindering Recovery, Factors Enhancing Recovery, The Hurdles of Recovery and the Recovering Self. The affected self included: lack of boundary awareness and self-blame, over self-reliance, over-vigilance and guilt, shame, aloneness and social stigma. The recovering self was characterized by increasing confidence, assertiveness, ability to self-care and self-acceptance, and by embracing vulnerability. These findings have potentially major implications for clinical practice, service provision, policy development and professional training in this field. The importance of disclosure in the healing process seemed paramount and can have major implications for current service protocols.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-78
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing
Issue number1
Early online date5 Feb 2013
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Childhood sexual abuse
  • Clinical framework
  • Qualitative
  • Recovery
  • Survivors


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