10 golden rules for professionals

How can professionals help people heal from child sexual abuse?

Dande-lion heart, symbol for the lionhearted, survivors of child sexual abuse, photograph by Agnes van der Graaf

There are a lot of ways in which health care professionals and therapists can aid people in their healing process. I recently found this anonymous piece about the 10 golden rules for professionals. It was in a different context, but adapted them for professionals dealing with adult survivors of child sexual abuse. I’m sure there’s a few more golden rules we could think of. I found the first one to be very helpful. Quite often professionals invest a lot of time in getting the clients trust. This seems to me like a waste of time. Trust is something that you learn, perhaps, at the end of therapy, not something that is a prerequisite to it. Let me know what you think.

Rule number 1: Realize that your cliënt doesn’t trust you.

Trust has to be earned and once broken it’s very difficult to get back. For people suffering the long term effects of child sexual abuse, trust was broken a long long time ago. That means they don’t trust you, they will test you. Be trustworthy, but don’t expect your cliënt to trust you completely. Ever.

Rule number 2: Let the cliënts tell their story

Let them tell the story in their own way, on their own terms and in their own tempo. You may not have a need to hear it, but the cliënt may have a need to tell. So sit there and listen to it.

Rule number 3: Accept that your cliënts did the best they could

Hindsight is 20/20 they say and I’m sure you could have thought of several better ways of dealing with the abuse and the subsequent situations. Your cliënt can probably think of a million more. At the time however, your cliënt made the best of the situation. They did the best they could to survive and succeeded. Honor that.

Rule number 4: Don’t treat your cliënt like a statistic

Your cliënt is a person, with their own characteristics, their own needs and wants. They have their own history and their own way of dealing with what happened to them.

Rule number 5: Don’t judge your cliënt

Your cliënt is neither good nor bad. Your cliënt is who he or she is, with all the good and bad that is inherent in any human being. They are who they are and that is all they can be at this point.

Rule number 6: Don’t think you know better than your cliënt

All you know is what your cliënt chooses to tell you about themselves and that’s always just a small part of who they are. Remember you’re just the ‘hired help.’

Rule number 7: Don’t think you know what your cliënt should do

You don’t know. Your cliënts are the experts on their own lives. They may be lost and confused, but they still know a lot more than you do about how to survive their trauma.

Rule number 8: Don’t burden your cliënt with your expectations

Your cliënt has enough to contend with, just dealing with their own expectations on a daily basis.

Rule number 9: Listen to your cliënts feelings

Don’t just listen to the words, listen to the feelings as well and accept them all. If you can’t accept your cliënts feelings, how do you think your cliënt is ever going to learn how to deal with them?

Rule number 10: Don’t rescue your cliënt

Your cliënts can rescue themselves. They have done so for a long time. Besides, they were smart enough to come see you weren’t they?

What are your golden rules?

There they are, 10 golden rules for professionals. Let me know what you think: are you missing any of your golden rules? If you’re a professional, how do you measure up with these rules? If you’re a survivor, how does your ‘hired help’ measure up?


15 thoughts on “10 golden rules for professionals

  1. I truly appreciate this article and having been both abused and previously a Juvenile Officer, feel that it is important to check in with ourselves. Acknowledgement that survivors of child sex abuse have been groomed is extremely important. A survivor of CSA has had to live a dual life and acquires skills very quickly to read people. Having said that… as direct service provider’s, it is important to recognize our body language. Sometimes we forget that if we feel bias or judgement, it comes out in our facial expression, lack of eye contact or just overall body language. Youth and adults who have been groomed tend to pick up on it very quickly. Thank you again for this great list of “golden rules”.

    • Hi Savenia,

      Thank you for your appreciation. I agree with you, I believe it takes someone with exemplary self-awareness to work with people who have been abused.


    • Listening to and learning from clients is the best way of learning the trade I believe. Thank you for your comments.

  2. You learn so much from the strength of the abused and you still go on learning from all your clients. I work with adult survivors and am astonished how they have coped with the abuse.
    The article is inspiring.

    • Thanks Jan,
      I’ve worked with teenagers who had been abused and I am impressed with both their coping skills and their willingness to heal, to go past just mere survival and into living their full potential.

  3. I agree with these 10 golden rules that trust must definately be earned. Trust is something that has been violated again & again for most victims, & many times they don’t even trust their own judgement & choice they make. Thank-you for some wise words.

  4. Ivonne,
    I was a police officer and specialised in the field of child abuse for many years.
    I often think it is totally wrong for someone to apply rules, programs, research and the like to individuals who have been abused. Every person has to be treated differently and every person is unique.
    Having said that these are the best set of rules I have ever seen because they are aimed at giving the victim a voice in their own time and towards treating every one of them as an individual.
    Personally I don’t believe you can train someone to deal with victims because training implies that all victims are the same. As you know they are not. These rules do not set boundaries and make so much sense. Thank you for posting them.

  5. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree in part: rules and regulations I believe are generally a sign of weakness.
    I do believe you can train people to become better professionals: I let them practise with these golden rules for instance and give them feedback on where they got it right and where they go wrong and put their own spin on things instead of listening to their client.

  6. As a CSA survivor trust is difficult. Our coping skills are complex but we are able to lead fulfilling lives filled with love and trust. I have been able to create a family of choice and have friendships lasting over 20 years. As I find myself pushing 40 I count my blessings.

    The rules you provided are good. Children and adult survivors would rather not talk about it at first. Some of us may feel it was our fault even though we logically understand it is not. Don’t interrupt as we purge ourselves. Just listening is the best way.

  7. Hi, not sure all professionals are trained in the way these rules are laid out. With that being said… what happened to Rule # 1 “Do No Harm” ? “Breaching Confidentality” ? “Not Protecting Client” ? I could go on and on… Two years later Legal and Ethical still being looked into! Seriously ladies and gentlemen… client had stroke…. nervous breakdowns…. loss of time with family due to DID…. so what happens when a situation like this happens? Rule # 11?

    • Hi Rosemary,

      All the legal and moral rules are, or at least should be, self-evident. These rules are from the cliënts perspective. In a way it’s ‘how to tell a good therapist from a bad therapist’ or, ‘what we expect from a therapist’.

      I’m sorry to hear about your cliënt, it sounds like he/she was ill served.


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