case five: Boy, 10, Sexual Abuse
A common symptom of children and teens that have been sexually abused over long periods of time is frequent bathing and showering, because they feel “dirty,” inside and out. This case is an example of a young boy who was brought to therapy by his mother, who described this as one of his most chronic symptoms.
This 10 year old who was molested by a soccer coach was forced to perform fellatio over several months until he told someone. Because he got so much support from the beginning, he was willing to tell his story to me right away. He said that he took so many baths and washed so much because he was convinced that his face was black and dirty and that everyone could see this all of the time. He would sit in the bathtub crying and scrubbing his face.
I invited him to do some drawings of this scenario but he had trouble and got frustrated. I thought it might be a good idea for him to do some clay sculptures of himself in the bathtub but I was reluctant to use clay early on in his treatment. Different art materials elicit different responses and clay can quickly promote regression due to its wet, slippery, messy consistency. It is important to use caution when choosing materials for young children that have been molested because often their ego is not strong enough to tolerate regression.
In this case, however, I thought, if this child is trying so desperately to get clean because he thinks he is dirty when he really isn’t, it might be a good idea to let him get dirty in a normal, healthy way. Then we could wash up together at the sink during clean-up time. That way, washing would become part of the therapeutic experience as well.
Not only was this extremely effective, but when he made his sculpture of himself in the bathtub, and announced tearfully that he was going to paint his face black, I switched him over to a paint that can be washed off after it dries. In a later session, he “washed his face” on his sculpture, as you can see in the second photograph.
The process of making the pieces of this sculpture, assembling them, firing the clay, painting it, and washing the face, took several weeks. During these weeks, his mother reported a dramatic decrease in his symptoms.

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