Objective: To explore the views of psychiatric residents regarding the prevalence and impact of child physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; the adequacy of their training in these areas; and the sufficiency of treatment resources for abused children and their abusers.
Method: A 97-item survey questionnaire was distributed to 189 psychiatric residents as a section of the 1997 Coordinators of Postgraduate Education (COPE) self-assessment examination.
Results: Estimations of prevalence of child sexual, physical, and emotional abuse among men and women in both general and psychiatric populations were generally accurate according to the literature. Residents appeared to be aware of the multifactorial nature of child abuse and identified the particular importance of social-environmental factors such as parental drug abuse and a violent social environment. Residents also recognized the significant association of posttraumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, and dissociative disorders with child sexual abuse. Seventy-five percent of respondents felt that instruction on the topic of child abuse during their psychiatric residency was insufficient. Sixty-four percent of respondents felt that resources for the treatment of effects of child abuse were insufficient; 83% felt that treatment resources for child abusers were insufficient.
Conclusion: Although psychiatric residents appear to be aware of the prevalence of child abuse and its varied effects on the victims' mental health, the majority felt that their medical training in this area had been insufficient. For this reason, medical school curricula and training experiences might require reevaluation. Increasing the profile of child abuse and its impact on mental health might also result in enhanced prevention programs and treatment resources available to abused children and their abusers.