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Find out what constitutes abuse, how abuse can affect survivors and how to find a therapist

Abuse is the misuse of power with the intent to harm or control another person. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse, whether past or present, causes pain and psychological distress that can affect your life. It can be very hard to confide in those around you the abuse you have suffered and the feelings that you may be experiencing as a result. If you are suffering from the consequences of abuse, it is important to seek help, for example from a support group or therapist.

Therapy for abuse provides a non-judgmental environment to help you deal with the painful memories and trauma, giving you new perspectives, healthier ways to cope and helping you to overcome flashbacks, nightmares or other symptoms that are troubling you. In this way, you can transform your life. While overcoming abuse is a difficult journey, a therapist can support you through each step, helping you to move forward.

Abuse in any form can harm someone. Types of abuse include:

  • Physical Abuse: Deliberate physical violence such as hitting, punching, shaking, burning, choking, unwanted physical touching and other acts that can cause physical injury to the body.

  • Sexual Abuse: Actions of a sexual nature without consent such as rape, sexual assault, incest, childhood sexual abuse or other acts of sexual violence.

  • Emotional and Verbal Abuse: Controlling manipulation and actions that cause emotional distress, including being criticised constantly, threatened, bullied, dismissed, humiliated, disrespected, accused, harassed, isolated from friends or family, or being yelled at.

  • Neglect: Neglect can occur when adequate food, housing, clothing or medical care is not provided for someone, for example in childhood. Emotional neglect happens when support and love are not provided.

  • Financial abuse: Controlling someone using money, for example controlling their bank account, taking their property or using their money without permission.

  • Domestic abuse: Any form of abuse within an intimate relationship is domestic violence or domestic abuse.

  • Elder abuse: Harming or exploiting an elderly person.

  • Child abuse: Harming, exploiting or neglecting a person under the age of 18.

Effects of abuse

Some of the issues or conditions that may affect survivors of abuse include:

  • Anxiety

  • Anger

  • Depression

  • Dissociation

  • Irritability and mood swings

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • Shame

  • Self-destructive behaviour, such as self-harming, neglecting personal hygiene or alcohol and drug use

  • Trust and relationship issues

  • Difficulty with physical intimacy

  • Flashbacks of the abuse

  • Nightmares

  • Memory gaps

  • Feeling numb

  • Feeling suicidal

  • Self-harm

  • Panic attacks

  • Behavioural difficulties

  • Low confidence and low self-esteem

  • Sexual difficulties

How can therapy help with abuse?

Counselling and psychotherapy can help you to process painful memories of abuse in a safe environment and to deal with the effects that trauma has left with you, such as flashbacks, depression and anxiety.

How to find a therapist for abuse-related issues

If you have suffered abuse of any kind, counselling can help. Experienced, professional counsellors and psychotherapists offer a safe space for you to talk through your experiences and how they might be affecting you in the present. Therapy can help you to overcome shame, anger and fear, improve your self-esteem and empower you to build healthy relationships.

Website resources

Victim Support

NHS - help after rape and sexual assault

National Association for People Abused in Childhood


The Survivors Trust


Helpful UK phone numbers

Rape Crisis - 0808 802 9999

ChildLine - 0800 1111

Refuge (domestic violence helpline) - 0808 2000 247

National Association for People Abused in Childhood - 0800 085 3330

NSPCC (helpline to prevent childhood abuse) - 0808 800 5000

International resources for readers outside of the UK

A list of international rape crisis help lines

Rape Crisis Network Europe

National Domestic Violence Hotline USA

International sexual assault resources

Therapeutic and psychological services

NHS - see your GP and ask for a referral to a psychological specialist

Local charities and organisations - check with your council for support groups, therapy and advice in your local area

Private counselling and psychotherapy 

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