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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Trade Paper ed edition (28 July 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465022111
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465022113
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 344,445 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"New York Times" "[T]he moral of Dr. Clancy's story is clear: science should represent truth, not wishful thinking. When good data fly in the face of beloved theory, the theory has to go...Dr. Clancy writes with the precision and patient repetition of a good teacher on complicated terrain. Her prose could not be clearer, and her points are restated many, many times over." ""The Trauma Myth" is a nuanced and muscular work that takes a surprisingly straightforward approach to a tough subject matter." "Publishers Weekly" "[A] nuanced psychological study." Carol Tavris, Ph.D., coauthor of "Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)" "With her usual clarity of prose and reasoning, Susan Clancy has written a calm and persuasive assessment of a volatile subject. I highly recommend this book for anyone with a personal or professional interest in child abuse--which should be all of us." Paul McHugh, University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University; author of "Try to Remember" ""The Trauma Myth" is not a debunking of the psychic damage that sexual abuse of children can cause or a denial of its existence. Rather it reveals how sexual abuse occurs and illuminates its pathogenic nature by drawing upon descriptions from people in the population at large rather than in the clinic. Read this book so as to understand just what is involved in these matters, to grasp what is needed to protect children from these experiences, and to treat them if they have been so miserably betrayed. It's a great story of discovery - about truth, about interpretation, and about why truth matters." Sally Satel MD, Yale University School of Medicine; resident scholar at American Enterprise Institute; author of "PC, M.D." and co-author of "One Nation Under Therapy" "Psychologist Susan Clancy explodes conventional wisdom about child sexual abuse. Though never ever the child's fault, as Clancy makes crystal clea --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Susan A. Clancy, Ph.D., is Research Director of the Center for Women's Advancement, Development, and Leadership at INCAE, the Central American Institute for Business Administration in Nicaragua. She received her Ph.D. from Harvard and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Managua, Nicaragua.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By F. S. Harte on 25 Oct 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the major misconceptions surrounding Clancy's research is actually dealt with in this book - notably, the bogus idea that Clancy, a Harvard educated psychologist, is suggesting child sexual abuse doesn't damage individuals, or even that Clancy is denying abuse is morally abhorent. In fact, Clancy argues - on the basis of extensive interviews with child abuse victims - that the majority of child sexual abuse victims experience *confusion* rather than trauma at the time the abuse is committed - which is one reason why abuse often goes undetected. Crucially, damage may be done in the years that follow, because a variety of factors prevent individuals from seeking support or even confiding in anyone regarding their abuse, but even where victims learn to cope alone, it does not make the abuse in any way less reprehensible. Crucially, her conclusion is that trusted adults must work harder at building relationships with children in which they feel safe to share their thoughts and feelings and experiences, including those that most trouble them, if we are to protect them more effectively.
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4 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Crook on 26 Feb 2010
Format: Hardcover
Here's one of the causes of the controversy surrounding this book. Five years ago, the author asked subjects to rate the sexual abuse they experienced as a child on a 10-point scale (1=not traumatic at all, 10 = extremely traumatic." The average rating was 7.5. Clancy subsequently published this finding (Clancy and McNally, 2005-06, p. 69).

In other words, the subjects thought that the abuse, not what they learned about it years later, was traumatic. Not extremely traumatic, not life-threatening, but traumatic.

Clancy doesn't mention this finding in "The Trauma Myth." She suggests that child sexual abuse is not typically traumatic for children.

The professionals who challenge Clancy's conclusion suggest that sexual abuse is traumatic for children.

Based upon Clancy's research, they're right.

- Clancy SA and McNally RJ. (2005-2006). Who needs repression? Normal memory processes can explain "forgetting" of childhood sexual abuse. Sci Rev Ment Health Pract. 4(2):66-73.
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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful By tiggrie AKA Sarah on 26 Aug 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
One can only wonder about anyone who thinks that sexual abuse itself is not that traumatic or that it only becomes traumatic because we are told it should be. That just is not at all true. Clancy's definition of trauma is mindbogglingly narrow to start with. On top of that, she forgets that:

1) children who, at the time perceive the abuse to not be traumatic within Clancy's narrow bounds have been groomed to accept the abuse, indeed to be hungry for the affection it represents; "to one who is hungry, even bitter food tastes sweet." It does by no means suggest that those children are not traumatised by what happens to them.

2) plenty of children do experience abuse which DOES fit within her definition of "trauma". Does she imagine that a 5 year old who is raped does not find the experience to be frightening and probably very painful??

The journey of healing from such abuse is hardly fun and games, but the trauma comes from the abuse itself. Clancy should be ashamed even to write a book with this title that someone might see and rationalise the trauma of abuse away. I am disgusted and wonder what on earth Clancy hoped to achieve with this book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 67 reviews
153 of 198 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant, Affirming Book for Survivors 28 Jan 2010
By MysticPoet - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am astounded by the negative reviews of this book. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and a veteran of many years of therapy, I found this book to be one of the most healing and affirming that I have ever read on the subject. I can only conclude that many of the reviewers have not actually read the book.

This book is extremely clear, very well-written, and deeply compassionate. Ms. Clancy reiterates again and again how much damage is done to children who are sexually abused. Nowhere in this book does she suggest or imply that the sexual abuse of children is less than horrible, or that its victims do not suffer or are not hurt.

She simply points out that for many victims (not all, and she makes this clear as well) the abuse when it happens is not, to the child, "traumatic" in the ordinary sense of that word. I was abused by a relative whom I deeply loved and trusted, and the abuse was not violent, unpleasant, or terrifying in any way at the time it occurred. In fact, it occurred in the context of this relative providing me with comfort over other events happening my life which were traumatic (a violent alcoholic parent).

It was years before I was able to begin to sort out my deep confusion, shame and pain over all of this. I'm still sorting it out, and Clancy's book has felt to me like a beam of light illuminating what happened to me and giving me a fresh and healing perspective on it and a way to reframe it that makes so much good sense to me.

I feel that some of these reviews are knee-jerk reactions to what they think the book is saying, rather than a response to a careful reading.
33 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Wow... Surprised by other people's reviews 13 Dec 2011
By L Gray - Published on
I read this book and found that it encapsulated those aspects of my own abuse that I was most disturbed by - the aspects that I've felt the most uncomfortable about sharing with anyone else. During the earliest part of my abuse I felt confused and uncomfortable about what was going on, but didn't understand it, and (like many of the subjects talked about in the book) cooperated with my abuser. It was only as I got older and learned what sex was, even as the abuse continued, that I came to realize what he was and had been doing to me for so many years. It is these later episodes that I still have flashbacks and classic PTSD symptoms about, but I feel relatively comfortable talking about them. On the other hand, the bulk of my guilt and shame is wrapped up in my earliest experiences, when I was still a participant in the events that occurred.

I felt that this book validated the conclusions that I had already come to on my own - that I could not have responded in a way other than how I did because I just did not have the information or the developmental capacity to understand what was going on. I had no way to accurately evaluate the consequences of any action I could take. I was relieved to see so many similar experiences put down in print.

And I was surprised at how many one star reviews there were for this book when I came to

I feel like this book could be tremendously helpful for a huge number of csa victims. Does it mirror the experiences of all victims? No, of course not. There's a huge diversity of human experience out there and no single theory can or should be applied to all cases. But for a significant population of victims, including myself, I feel that this could be a hugely important book that can help remove feelings of guilt, shame, and solitude.

Honestly, I wish I had read it sooner.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Excellent 27 Jun 2013
By Susan Painter - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Well researched, well written. Thoughtful and counterintuitive report that debunks a lot of misperceptions and helps us realize that the "lock em up and throw away the key" approach to those who abuse children is too simplistic, overbroad and can be downright harmful to the victims.

This should be read by judges, prosecutors and legislators across the country.
146 of 205 people found the following review helpful
Clancy's Own Research Contradicts the "findings" of her Book, "The Trauma Myth" 2 Feb 2010
By Ellen P. Lacter - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
Clancy uses circular reasoning to conclude that sexual abuse is not traumatic in her book, "The Trauma Myth".
Her book is based in part on an article she co-authored with Richard J. McNally, entitled, " 'Who Needs Repression? Normal Memory Processes Can Explain Forgetting' of Childhood Sexual Abuse", published in The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice (2005/2006, Fall/Winter 4(2)).
In this study, Clancy asked 27 adults who reported sexual abuse as children to rate their levels of trauma at the time of their abuse on a 10-point scale, with #10 to indicate "extremely traumatic" and #1 to indicate "not traumatic at all". The average rating was 7.5.
Any logical person would consider 7.5 on a 10-point scale to be quite high.
Not Susan Clancy!
She concluded that child sexual abuse "experiences were unpleasant, distressing, or confusing, but not traumatic (e.g., terrifying) at the time they occurred." (p. 70)
How did she arrive at this conclusion?
She limited her definition of "trauma" to abuse that was "overwhelmingly terrifying or perceived as life threatening". (p. 67)
Then she determined that only two of her subjects perceived that level of threat, and parenthetically dismissed one of these subjects' reports as "bizarre" and "questionable" (p. 68).
Clancy discounted all lesser levels of distress as nontraumatic, essentially re-rating them all as #1 on her 10-point trauma scale.
Why did she even bother asking them to rate their levels of trauma if she planned to ignore their reports?
Clancy considers the following reports of two of her subjects as lacking in trauma:
"I went from confused to bewildered to scared . . . it culminated in me feeling somewhat angry and betrayed."
"I didn't think of it as sex, I just thought of it as disgusting . . ."
To further make her case, she wrote that two men, "while reporting that the [rape] was painful, did not describe it as traumatic [recall Clancy's definition of trauma: 'overwhelmingly terrifying or perceived as life threatening']. In the words of one of the victims, 'He would always say if you love me you'll do it. It hurt, and after a while I knew it was wrong, but not at the beginning.' The other victim of penetration reported, 'I didn't like it-- I knew it was wrong-- but it was better than having to go back to DYS [Department of Youth Services custody]'."
Clancy dismisses painful rape of a child as nontraumatic simply because the victims did not describe the abuse as "overwhelmingly terrifying or perceived as life threatening".
She also dismissed as nontraumatic all other painful emotional states described by her 27 subjects, including:
"definitely feeling dirty"
"I couldn't breathe"
"I was shocked at what was happening, and I think I was afraid, there was a lot of weirdness, insecurity, a lot of anger"
"I thought it was my fault."
Clancy categorizes all such psychological reactions as, "unpleasant, distressing, or confusing, but not traumatic."
Clancy acknowledges that, "All of our subjects (1) had either symptoms or diagnoses of PTSD [posttraumatic stress disorder] and (2) reported negative life effects from the abuse." (p. 71)
Yet, this does not influence Clancy to consider that they might have suffered trauma at the time of their abuse. Instead, she states that since child sexual abuse is, "not necessarily traumatic at the time it occurs", "it may be the retrospective interpretation of the event, rather than the event itself, that mediates its subsequent impact." (P. 72)
In her words, the later PTSD is the result of, "an understandable tendency to project our adult fears, repulsion, and horror onto child victims".
So, she claims, it is adults, especially therapists per her book, "The Trauma Myth", who project their own project fear, repulsion, and horror onto child sexual abuse.
She ignores her subjects' own reports of contemporaneous fear, repulsion, and horror.
And then she entitles her book, "The Trauma Myth", categorically painting sexual abuse as nontraumatic with one sweeping brush stroke.
To reiterate, a mean score of 7.5 on a 10-point scale of trauma is very high.
Clancy has no objective basis to dismiss as a myth her subjects' experiences of having been traumatized by their sexual abuse, simply because their reports did not meet her overly-restrictive criteria of overwhelming terror or having feared for their lives.

It is important to note that the McNally-Clancy article was published in the journal, "The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice", which claims to be peer-reviewed and endorsed by, "The Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health" (CSMMH). Scott Lilienfeld is founder and editor of this journal and of the CSMMH. Many of the coordinating committee and fellows of the CSMMH have a long history of affiliation with the False Memory Syndrome Foundation and of advocating on behalf of accused sex abuse offenders in legal actions. These fellows include Elizabeth Loftus, Paul McHugh, and Harrison Pope. I believe it is necessary to question the degree of scientific objectivity of the peer-review process of this article by Clancy and McNally.

Clancy's book also oddly neglects to adequately incorporate the vast body of psychological research documenting the myriad short-term damaging effects of sexual abuse on children. It is standard for psychologists to first conduct an unbiased review of the literature on our subject and to include that review in our books and papers. Clancy failed to do conduct such a review. Instead, she selectively cites only a few studies that support her position. This approach suggests that Clancy has a biased agenda rather than an objective of honestly representing the work in the field. This raises questions of potential bias in her research methods, her interviews of victims, and her interpretation of her results.

As a psychologist for 24 years, I have treated hundreds of abused children and adults abused as children. Cases of children experiencing only "confusion" her thesis) during the time period of their abuse are very rare. In most cases, abused children and adults abused as children report that during the time in which they were abused, in addition to confusion of various types, they experienced a combination of many of the following:

1. Physical pain, in some cases extreme.
2. Disgust for the sexual acts, abuser genitalia and emissions.
3. Terror in cases of extreme force, restraint, or restriction of the child's breathing, gagging, etc.
4. Terror based in threats to self, loved one, pets, etc., to ensure compliance and/or to prevent disclosure.
5. Fear based in the abuser over-riding their attempts to escape, ignoring their pleas for the abuser to stop, etc.
6. Fear, shame, and guilt, based in an awareness that private parts should be covered and not bothered (molested), and an awareness that the abuser was making great efforts to hide the abuse, to keep it secret, and to ensure that they kept it secret, causing the child to understand that these acts were harmful and morally wrong, as in hitting someone, stealing, lying, etc.
7. Betrayal and hurt in cases of abuse by loved ones, based in an awareness that the abuser was engaging them in harmful and immoral acts, and in many cases, that family members were allowing the abuse to continue.
8. Guilt and shame for not escaping or physically fighting off the abuser. (The truth is that children usually understand in the moment that they will be overpowered or assaulted for resisting)
9. Feeling like an "accomplice" based in receiving gifts and special privileges from the abuser. Clancy portrays these "gifts" as "benefits" that the child derives from sexual abuse. This equates child victims with prostitutes who trade money for sex. But, children cannot enter "contracts" to be sexually exploited. Sexual abuse is imposed on children against their will and with no knowledge of the meaning of sexuality. Abusers then use gifts and favors to further manipulate and entrap children.
10. Anxiety-producing sexual arousal during the abuse, in cases in which the abuser took precautions to prevent or minimize the perception of pain.
11. Residual sexual feelings and responses that caused great anxiety, crying, tantrums, pleas to caregivers to, "Make it [the sexual response] stop", etc.
12. Rage at the abuser for inflicting the above.
13. Social, behavioral, and cognitive (including academic) problems driven by the above.
14. Physical damage, including damage to internal organs, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, and in some rare cases, death.

In addition, when children first disclose their abuse, the supportive caregivers in their life typically are devastated to have discovered the true basis for their children's recent psychological and physical problems, such as separation anxiety, nightmares and night terrors, frequent crying, assorted fears, defiance, temper tantrums, academic problems, urinary and bowel "accidents", etc. All of these are clear indicators that the sexual abuse was damaging to the child pre-disclosure.

I do not discount the rare cases of children feeling only "confused" during the period of their sexual abuse. However, this reaction usually occurs only in cases that do not involve pain, coercion, and threats, that involve more "mild" sexual acts, that are very short-term, and in younger children.

My internet search reveals that Susan Clancy is an experimental psychologist. I have found no evidence that she is a licensed psychologist or psychotherapist of any kind. I do not believe that a non-therapist is adequately experienced to write a book about the effects of child sexual abuse.

It is significant to note that Susan Clancy is a member of the "International Committee of Social, Psychiatric, Psychological, Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, and Neurological Scientists", a group that submitted an amicus brief in on behalf of Roman Catholic priest Paul M. Shanley in his appeal of his conviction of child sexual abuse. Shanley's sexual assault convictions were recently upheld on appeal. See: (...)
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A review by someone who actually read the book ... 5 Aug 2013
By Pen Name - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
While I was initially skeptical of this book as a therapist trainee working with survivors or childhood sexual abuse, I came to realize how accurately the authors account and interpretation of childhood sexual abuse paralleled the account of clients I've worked with. Although others will likely disagree with my concurrence with the authors stance, I believe this book provides insight into the mechanisms of HOW and WHY childhood sexual abuse is traumatic.

The author does not suggest that such abuse is entirely non- traumatic for those perpetrated against, but rather posits that the trauma model and DSM diagnostic criteria associated with PTSD does not seem to align with childhood sexual abuse in many cases and invites readers to explore another perspective on how survivors of sexual abuse are affected. The author also makes it clear that she is examining cases where there is a LACK of violence (or the threat thereof) or a life-threatening situation when the abuse occurred, but in no way seemed to me to suggest that violent sexual abuse was the only kind that harms survivors. The author provides a clear picture of how the adult perception of sexual abuse has dominated the trauma theories in past decades and suggests rather that we reexamine abuse from the perspective of a child victim who may not have a developed concept of sex or sexuality.

With this in mind, I believe the author also does a great job explaining and examining how many victims' development and awareness of sexuality later in adolescence or adulthood serves to reshape their view of their childhood abuse. This is in not way a suggestion by the author that childhood sexual abuse is not potentially very traumatic overall, but rather that it may be a unique type of trauma distinct from the generally accepted diagnostic criteria for traumas associate with PTSD. Rather than completely discounting the trauma approach, the author also examines the history and origin of this approach to understanding sexual trauma, but also explores how a broader perspective of abuse may contribute to a more accurate understanding of some victims' experiences with childhood sexual abuse, as well as provide a framework to develop better treatment approaches.
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