Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse

Often when adults come to therapy, it is to deal with childhood abuse.  It is critical that therapists have the resources to help these clients heal so that they can go on to live fulfilling lives. How you approach these types of clients will depend greatly on your own theoretical orientation and on how the abuse is currently impacting the person.  It will likely be important to seek out supervision and / or continuing education, especially with complex cases but these books can be a great start to developing a healing practice with adult survivors of childhood abuse.  The resources listed on this page are primarily for therapists working with adult clients who were abused as children.  If you are working with children who have been abused, see the list here.

Note: Most links are affiliate links which means we make a small commission without costing you anything extra. You can learn more here.

Breaking Free: Help for survivors of child sexual abuse by Carolyn Ainscough 

This manual is designed to help survivors of child sexual abuse. It updates the first edition, and investigates all the effects of child sexual abuse, which often persist into adult life – guilt and shame, depression and anxiety, eating disorders, fear of relationships and sexual problems. It includes discussion of false memory syndrome and female abusers, and draws on accounts of survivors who want their voices to be heard, offering a positive and optimistic approach to help survivors break free from the past.

You can also find the accompanying workbook here.



EMDR in the Treatment of Adults Abused as Children by Laurel Parnell Ph.D.

This book shows therapists how to integrate EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) into the treatment so that adults who have been abused as children clear their trauma more rapidly, escape falling into the victim mentality, and proceed to lead full, productive lives. For therapists already familiar with EMDR, it covers the primary treatment issues and symptomatology of these clients and specific alterations of the standard EMDR protocol. For therapists experienced with treating abuse survivors, it introduces a safe and effective way to process trauma.
Emphasizing the practical, Laurel Parnell not only teaches many techniques to help the therapist when an impasse is reached, but also provides a selection of treatment choices. She demonstrates how EMDR can be used in the beginning phase of therapy for ego strengthening and the development and installation of resources. This prepares clients for trauma processing in the middle phase. Finally, in the end phase, clients integrate their experiences and often feel an awakening of their creativity and spirituality. Cases are used throughout to provide therapists with a deeper, more grounded understanding of different kinds of abuse cases and their treatment.

How does trauma affect a child’s mind—and how can that mind recover? In the classic The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Dr. Perry explains what happens to the brains of children exposed to extreme stress and shares their lessons of courage, humanity, and hope. Only when we understand the science of the mind and the power of love and nurturing, can we hope to heal the spirit of even the most wounded child.



toxic parents childhood abuse

In this remarkable self-help guide, Dr. Susan Forward draws on case histories and the real-life voices of adult children of toxic parents to help you free yourself from the frustrating patterns of your relationship with your parents — and discover a new world of self-confidence, inner strength, and emotional independence.






childhood abuse childhood disrupted

When children encounter sudden or chronic adversity, stress hormones cause powerful changes in the body, altering the body’s chemistry. The developing immune system and brain react to this chemical barrage by permanently resetting children’s stress response to “high,” which in turn can have a devastating impact on their mental and physical health as they grow up.

Donna Jackson Nakazawa shares stories from people who have recognized and overcome their adverse experiences, shows why some children are more immune to stress than others, and explains why women are at particular risk. “Groundbreaking” (Tara Brach, PhD, author of Radical Acceptance) in its research, inspiring in its clarity, Childhood Disrupted explains how you can reset your biology—and help your loved ones find ways to heal. “A truly important gift of understanding—illuminates the heartbreaking costs of childhood trauma and like good medicine offers the promising science of healing and prevention” (Jack Kornfield, author of A Path With Heart).


Was your mother preoccupied, distant, or even demeaning? Have you struggled with relationships—or with your own self-worth? Often, the grown children of emotionally absent mothers can’t quite put a finger on what’s missing from their lives. The children of abusive mothers, by contrast, may recognize the abuse—but overlook its lasting, harmful effects.

Psychotherapist Jasmin Lee Cori has helped thousands of men and women heal the hidden wounds left by every kind of undermothering. In this second edition of her pioneering book, with compassion for mother and child alike, she explains: Possible reasons your mother was distracted or hurtful—and what she was unable to give, The lasting impact of childhood emotional neglect and abuse, How to find the child inside you and fill the “mother gap” through reflections and exercises. & How to secure a happier future for yourself (and perhaps for your children).

In this gentle guidetherapist and childhood abuse expert Beverly Engel presents a mindfulness and compassion-based therapeutic approach to help you overcome the debilitating shame that keeps you tied to the past. By following the step-by-step exercises in this book, you’ll gain a greater understanding of the root cause of your shame. And by cultivating compassion toward yourself, you will begin to heal and move past your painful experiences.
This book is based on the author’s powerful and effective Compassion Cure program. With this book, you will develop the skills needed to finally put a stop the crippling self-blame that keeps you from moving on and being happy. You’ll learn to focus on your strengths, your courage, and your extraordinary ability to survive. Most of all, you’ll learn to replace shame with its counter emotion—pride.


Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect by Jonice Webb and‎ Christine Musello 

Do you sometimes feel as if you’re just going through the motions in life? Are you good at looking and acting as if you’re fine, but secretly feel lonely and disconnected? Perhaps you have a fine life and are good at your work, but somehow it’s just not enough to make you happy.
Running on Empty will give you clear strategies for how to heal, and offers a special chapter for mental health professionals. In the world of human suffering, this book is an Emotional Smart Bomb meant to eradicate the effects of an invisible enemy.



In this groundbreaking book, clinical psychologist Oliver James shows that it is the way we were cared for in the first six years of life that has a crucial effect on who we are and how we behave. Nurture, in effect, shapes our very nature. In a remarkable analysis of science and popular culture, James combines the latest research with revealing case studies, interviews, and biographies with the likes of Michael Jackson, Mia Farrow, and Prince Charles to prove his point. In addition to presenting his findings, James explains how they can be a source of liberation in our lives. Through the use of provocative questions and insightful examples, he helps readers better understand the way their childhood past is affecting their present and how to “be your own scriptwriter.” He also argues that his findings could have huge implications for society as a whole. A top-seller and recipient of significant attention in the U.K., They F*** You Up is an opinionated, entertaining read which causes us to ponder the origins of our present behavior.

rescuing the inner child childhood abuse

How to recall instances of childhood sexual abuse and overcome the painful memories.

If you know of another book that belongs on this list let us know here or tell us about it in the comments. Make sure you’re also following The Therapist’s Bookshelf on Facebook and Instagram.

Many therapists enjoy recommending books to their clients to supplement the work they are doing together. We also use books to help ourselves grow as people and practitioners. Remember though that books are never a replacement for real human connection, for supervision and continuing education, or for therapy when it’s needed. If you find yourself needing a therapist, a great place to start is Psychology Today. If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.


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