Unpacking childhood experiences of abuse: Can clinicians identify their patients’ History of Abuse?

Maayan Nagar, Ora Nakash, Drew Westen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Emotional, physical and sexual abuse, have been consistently linked to mental health problems in adults. Previous research found that mental health providers rarely ask their patients about their childhood experiences of abuse. No study to date has examined the convergence of clinicians’ and patients’ reports of childhood abuse. The current study applied a multi-method, multi-informant approach to explore the concordance between patients’ reports of childhood experiences of abuse and clinicians’ identification of their patients’ history of abuse. Assessment of an independent interviewer was included. A convenience sample of clinicians (N = 80) and their patients (N = 170) in mental health clinics in care-as-usual settings participated in the study. To assess the history of abuse clinicians and patients completed the Clinical Data Form, patients additionally completed the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. Independent interviewer completed the Familial Experiences Interview. Findings show that across all informants, exposure to emotional abuse was most prevalent, followed by physical abuse and least prevalent was sexual abuse. Additionally, clinicians reported lower prevalence of physical and sexual abuse among their patients as compared with the patient and independent interviewer’s reports. Moderate to strong correlations were observed between clinicians, patients and independent interviewer reports of emotional, physical and sexual childhood abuse. Moreover, the severity of the patient’s history of abuse was related to greater accuracy in clinicians’ reports. Clinicians are advised to collect explicit information regarding childhood abuse through interviews or valid measures. Clinicians should pay special attention when assessing patients with moderate severity of childhood abuse since they are frequently under-identified.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)396-408
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Trauma and Dissociation
Issue number3
StatePublished - 26 May 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, © 2020 Taylor & Francis.


  • Childhood Abuse
  • assessment
  • identification
  • trauma


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