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Mumbai’s mental health therapists ill-equipped to handle cases of child sex abuse: Survey

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70% of Mumbai therapists said they lack specialised training to handle cases; 77% found therapy with victims an emotionally overwhelming experience.

Mumbai: As many as 70 per cent of mental health practitioners in India’s most populous city claim they are ill-equipped to counsel victims of child sexual abuse, a study has found.

The Foundation, an NGO founded by actor Rahul Bose, released the survey report in Mumbai Tuesday.

The study, conducted with the support of UNICEF, used data from 61 mental health practitioners, 19 adults who suffered sexual abuse as children, and other stakeholders to determine the quality and availability of mental health services for victims of child sexual abuse in Mumbai.

According to the report, 70.18 per cent of the mental health practitioners who participated in the survey said that good therapists do not work with victims of child sexual abuse because they lack specialised training to deal with trauma and child sexual abuse.

Further, 77.05 per cent practitioners found therapy with victims of child sexual abuse an emotionally overwhelming experience. Besides, more than 50 per cent felt their skills were lacking in handling trauma, physical manifestation of trauma, disclosure, working on cases of incest and especially working with very young victims in the under-5 age group.

“Working with younger children is especially difficult because they do not even have the vocabulary to talk about their abuse, and mental health practitioners too are unsure of the exact language to use while speaking about it with children,” Radhika Raturi, the author of the report, told ThePrint.

The 61 mental health practitioners that The Foundation interviewed for the survey cumulatively reported coming across more than 7,000 cases of child sexual abuse in the course of their careers.

“The study also promisingly reveals that the majority of mental health practitioners represent the younger workforce that comes from across the social spectrum in Mumbai,” the report said. “They are well versed with local languages, cultural context of people, empathetic towards the fragile condition of the survivor and the family.”

While releasing the report, Bose said that although the situation is improving, there is still some stigma associated with talking openly on child sexual abuse. “We drew up a total list of 500 mental health practitioners in Mumbai… Of these, only 80 responded and 19 of them were not directly associated with victims of child sexual abuse, so it boiled down to 61 practitioners,” he said.

Similarly, since The Foundation could not directly speak with children, researchers reached out to adults who had been sexually abused in their childhood and parents and guardians of children. While 19 adults responded in an anonymous online survey, not a single parent or guardian came forward to speak, Bose added.

Of the 19 survivors, the survey found that 83.33 per cent did not speak about their abuse to anyone when it happened, and 78.57 per cent sought therapy in adulthood.

In some cases, victims said they did not realise what they faced as children was sexual abuse until they started an intimate relationship later in their lives. The survey also found that in many cases therapy ended prematurely due to various reasons such as lack of funds, the client feeling that therapy is not needed any longer, social pressures and commuting time, among others.

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