Surviving sexual abuse
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Deborah Hare BSC Hons UKCP Registered and Accredited Counsellor
27th January, 20140 Comments
A sexually abused survivor usually feels a sense of loss but they are not sure why, they are grieving for themselves without even being aware of this. It is usually when the victim reaches adulthood they realise that something is wrong, triggers start to happen. This can lead to depression, anxiety, self harm and many more.
How can we as counsellors help survivors of sexual abuse? (These examples can also be used for survivors of rape).
Below are a few examples of some techniques that may be used in the therapeutic environment:
Reassure the client that it was not their fault. Usually the first thing the victim asks themselves is it must have been my fault. This is not the case; the victim had been groomed by the perpetrator. How can a child be to blame for the actions of an adult?
Keeping a diary or journal helps the client. This helps the client by taking the trauma from the mind onto paper; they then can see for themselves how they are feeling about life and how the trauma has affected them. Keeping a diary helps the client realise throughout their therapy how they are growing and becoming whole again.
Do not talk about the abuse only if the victim wants to as this can re-traumatise the client. There is often psychological distress when a person is exposed to events which in some way resemble or symbolise the past trauma (1994) Sidran Institute. Asking the client to tell you about their abuse usually leads to re-traumatising the client. Do we really need to know what has happened to them or is that just our curiosity? Just understanding their world is enough, as sexually abused clients are reliving the trauma most days of their life.
Teach the client to deep breathe when they feel unsafe in the world. Mindfulness is an excellent way of helping the client to calm down their anxiety. Practicing deep breathing techniques allows the client to reduce their anxiety. The client can do this when worried or anxious when they are feeling unsafe. When they have become calmer they can take themselves to a safe place in their mind (usually visit one of their favourite places they have visited on earth) .
Help the client to find themselves again. This can be done by mirror work. The mirror work helps the client to remember who they are. Most clients find this task very difficult as they feel unclean and dirty. Start with either just their hair or their eyes. This task should be done daily; eventually the client will accept themselves again.
Write a letter to the abuser then destroy it (only when the client feels they can do this). After a few weeks therapy clients start to become angry with their abuser. The reason for this is the client has begun to accept that they have become a victim of abuse. A way of helping with the anger is for the client to write a letter to the abuser about how they feel and how they think about them. The client DOES NOT SEND THE LETTER. Instead they can destroy it how they want to. Like the diary task the client feels a relief by actually letting the abuser know how angry, hurt or broken they feel.
Talk about their loss of themselves. Who are they? Were there any toys they enjoyed playing with as a child? By doing this the client tries to understand that their childhood was not just abuse but also helps them to remember their true self.
There is quite a lot of homework for the client but actually this keeps the mind occupied allowing the fears to gradually fade.
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