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How to become a sexual assault therapist

Sexual abuse therapists are mental health counselors who deal specifically with patients who’ve suffered from sexual abuse. They work with both male and female patients of all ages and teach patients how to overcome fear and other negative behaviors associated with surviving a sexual assault.

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What is a Sexual Abuse Therapist?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in sexual abuse therapist roles:

  • Engage in counseling sessions with patients who’ve suffered from sexual abuse, either in one-on-one or group sessions
  • Encourage patients to share their thoughts and feelings openly during sessions in order to best evaluate patient needs
  • Educate patients on strategies for overcoming fear and managing thoughts and emotions that are the result of sexual abuse
  • Refer patients, when needed, to other services when counseling and behavior modifications are insufficient in helping the patient move on with his/her life

A Day in the Life

Sexual abuse therapists are trained mental health counselors who’ve chosen to focus their efforts on caring for survivors of sexual abuse. Their patients may be male or female, and they may be of any age. Sometimes, help from a sexual abuse therapist is sought immediately after an encounter, and sometimes patients who were assaulted as children seek therapy later in life due to an inability to maintain relationships or control fear, or due to substance abuse issues.

Sexual abuse therapists may work individually with patients, and they may also conduct group therapy sessions where patients can learn from other abuse survivors. They listen to patients in order to understand and evaluate needs, and they arm patients with strategies for overcoming the negative beliefs and emotions that resulted from their abuse. This may include thought and behavior modification, role-modeling, and continued counseling.

Often, sexual abuse therapists are employed by nonprofit organizations that support disadvantaged women and children. These organizations help women get back on their feet after a bad marriage that may have included sexual abuse. Often, these women and children are dealing with a variety of unhealthy mental processes, such as depression, anxiety, low self-confidence, grief, and fear. Sexual abuse therapists help these women and children overcome these emotions so they can move forward and begin healthy new lives.

Typical Work Schedule

Most sexual abuse therapist roles are full-time and are conducted during normal business hours. In many cases, the shifts worked depend on the employer, so some sexual abuse therapists may also need to work in evenings or on weekends to be available when needed by patients.

Typical Employers

Sexual abuse therapists may work for hospitals, mental health institutions, nonprofit organizations, or government agencies, or they may work within private counseling practices.

Image from vignette: Counselor debriefing session.

Welcome to the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) TTAC’s download center for Sexual Assault Advocate/Counselor Training (SAACT), a course designed to teach advocates how to provide competent, effective crisis intervention services to victims and survivors of sexual assault. Use this download center to gather all the materials you’ll need to conduct the training.

But where to start?

Prepare for the training by reading About This Curriculum, where you’ll learn about SAACT, your target audience, and trainer requirements. You’ll also learn how to navigate the download center and find tips on getting ready. This section is a must for newcomers to the SAACT site.

Jump to Training Modules to review and download each module’s offerings. This section is especially helpful to those who want to tailor the training to their advocates’ needs.

Download the full SAACT curriculum by visiting the Presenter’s Toolbox. You’ll also be able to pick up helpful tools, such as a customizable agenda, feedback form, attendance certificate, and a link to victims’ rights legislation.

Exclamation point punctuation symbol Important! This training is meant to enhance required training at an official sexual assault or human services agency. Completion does not certify trainees as advocates or counselors. Contact your

This training is meant to enhance required training at an official sexual assault or human services agency. Completion does not certify trainees as advocates or counselors. Contact your state sexual assault coalition to learn how to become involved with agencies in your area.


MFT Students and Community: Attend our 60-hour virtual training and become a State Certified Sexual Assault Counselor.

Volunteer sexual assault counselors provide:

– Crisis counseling on our 24-hour hotline and onsite emotional support at medical exams, police stations and courts to survivors of sexual violence.
- One 6.5 hour hotline shift per week.
- Attend monthly advocate supervision.
– Counselors do not need any previous training or experience.
MFT Volunteers will also: 
- Facilitate individual and group counseling for survivors of trauma

Submit the application to [email protected]

Training Overview: 
Week 1 May 18th – May 22nd 
Morning Session: 10 AM – 12 PM 
Afternoon Session: 1 PM – 3 PM 

Week 2 May 26th – May 29th
Morning Session: 10 AM – 12 PM 
Afternoon Session: 1 PM – 3 PM 






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Girl ScaredWhat 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 – Intentionally aggressive actions on a child that inflict pain.
  • Emotional & Psychological Abuse – Cruel behavior that cause mental anguish or damage to one’s mental state.
  • Neglect – The absence of parental care. Lack of supervision, proper diet, medical attention, shelter, and safe conditions.
  • Sexual Abuse – Any type of behavior that is sexual in nature, or intended to provide the offender with sexual stimulation.

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.

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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.

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What Does a Child Abuse Counselor Do?

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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. Listed below are several indicators of child abuse:

  • Physical Abuse – Unexplained bruises, cuts, or other injuries. Child flinches when touched.
  • Emotional Abuse – Withdrawn or overly shy, excessively low self-esteem. Extreme behavior.
  • Sexual Abuse – Inappropriate touching or fondling of other children. Trouble sitting or walking
  • Neglect – Poor hygiene. Clothes ill fitting, dirty, or inappropriate

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 to Become a Child Abuse Counselor?

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 Annual Average Salary of a Child Abuse Counselor?

Child abuse counselors generally fall under the broad category of mental health counselors. These counselors are admittedly some of the lowest paid on average, but according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, mental health counselors made an annual average salary of $43,990 and the top 10 percent of the profession makes an average of $66,930. Local government and private companies pay the most for child abuse counselors but aren’t the biggest employers. Those are family services clinics and outpatient care centers.

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.

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Additional Resources and Further Reading

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