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What is Inner Child Therapy?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated May 17, 2024
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Inner child therapy refers to a counseling practice which aims to uncover and heal the inner child that “lives” within everyone. Common beliefs state that if a child is damaged, abused, or otherwise traumatized during the impressionable years of development, he or she will likely always have issues pertaining to the areas in which he or she was harmed. For example, a child who is constantly told he is “stupid” will likely continue to believe that into adulthood. Inner child therapy allows the patient to express feelings that were not validated during childhood so that he may move past them.

There are several ways that inner child therapy may be carried out. Some therapists use tactics like hypnosis to get patients to open up, although this practice has been heavily scrutinized. Hypnotherapy is often believed to leave patients as very impressionable to comments made by the therapist. Therefore, if the counselor asks a question about abuse, for example, the idea of being abused is put into the patient’s head. This may lead to “false memories” of abuse being recovered by the patient.

Others believe that hypnotherapy is an accurate way of getting patients to discuss suppressed memories or memories that have been forgotten because they are often very painful or traumatic. Neither theories have been proven, so hypnosis is a popular therapeutic practice for many patients and practitioners. Often, it is used in combination with other therapy methods.

Another common method for inner child therapy is for the therapist to engage his or her patients in conversation about painful experiences. Therapists and counselors are trained in techniques to help patients open up. The theory behind this method is that by talking about painful experiences the patient in a sense relives them. This allows him to deal with the feelings and emotions brought forth in a healthy manner.

For instance, if a patient was sexually abused as a child, he may have held feelings of shame and guilt throughout his childhood and into adulthood. By reliving the experience of being abused in his mind, though painful, he can often come to understand the situation using an adult's logic rather than a child’s. He sees the circumstances of his abuse in a new way by talking things out, possibly for the first time. Soon he begins to realize that the abuse was not his fault.

While this is an oversimplified version of what may happen during sessions, it is an accurate idea of what happens during inner child therapy. An adult learns to confront, acknowledge, challenge, and release feelings and thought patterns that he has carried around since childhood. This allows him to develop newer, healthier, thought patterns and ideas about the world around him; thus allowing him to live a more fulfilling life.

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