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Psychological Maltreatment Most Harmful Form Of Abuse, Evidence From Major Study Suggests

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A major study (Spinazzola et al.) on the effects of child maltreatment provides strong evidence that psychological maltreatment of children is the most harmful form of abuse.

The study analyzed a sample of 5616 young people who had histories of childhood trauma in the form of :

– psychological maltreatment (i.e. emotional abuse / emotional neglect)

– sexual abuse

– physical abuse

Each young person who participated in the study was then assessed on whether or not he / she had experienced particular behavioral problems, symptoms and disorders (12 in all) , a list of which I present below :

– substance abuse

– alcohol abuse

– other forms of self-harm

– skipping school or daycare

– behavior problems in the home

criminal activity

attachment problems

– academic problems

– running away

suicidality

– behavior problems at school

– sexualized behaviors

RESULTS OF THE STUDY :

The researchers found that those young people who had a history of psychological maltreatment were more damaged  by their adverse experiences (as measured by to what extent they were affected by the above listed behavioral problems, symptoms and disorders) than were those who had suffered physical or sexual abuse.

More specifically, of the above 12 listed behavioral problems, symptoms and disorders, those who had suffered psychological maltreatment were equally likely, or more likely, than those who had suffered physical abuse to have been affected by :

– substance abuse

– alcohol abuse

– other forms of self-harm

– skipping school or daycare

– behavior problems in the home

criminal activity

attachment problems

– academic problems

– running away

suicidality

– behavior problems at school

Furthermore, of the above 12 listed behavioral problems, symptoms and disorders, those who had suffered psychological maltreatment were equally likely, or more likely, than those who had suffered sexual abuse to have been affected by :

 – substance abuse

– alcohol abuse

– other forms of self-harm

– skipping school or daycare

– behavior problems in the home

criminal activity

attachment problems

– academic problems

– running away

suicidality

– behavior problems at school

IMPLICATIONS OF THE STUDY :

In response to the above findings, the authors of the study emphasized the need for it to become a matter of public policy to develop and implement childhood trauma interventions in ways that recognize just what a devastating effect psychological maltreatment in one’s childhood can have upon a person’s quality of life.

They also draw attention to the need for the child welfare system to improve their ability to detect cases of child psychological maltreatment (which frequently occurs ‘under the radar’) so that effective interventions may be implemented.

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

About David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Psychologist, researcher and educationalist.

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