Working with clients that have experienced sexual abuse is a powerful process. I have witnessed time and time again the ability of the human spirit to overcome fear, pain, and negative patterns. There is a moment with each client where they internally begin to understand their worth and their view of the world begins to change.
So what is it like to go into therapy for dealing with sexual abuse? Well, it is scary. Very very scary. However, as cliche as it sounds it is usually the first session that is truly the hardest. It requires a great amount of strength to contact a therapist AND show up knowing that you are there with the intent to talk about that which altered your life so intensely.
Here is the truth. You were abused. You are afraid. You are angry. You are hurt. You don’t like yourself and you want to change that. The other truth is that you are unsure as to what therapy will do for you or to you.
You have fears of what will be discussed, what will not be discussed, will you freak out, will you die, will you cry and never be able to stop, will you hate yourself, hate your abuser, are you a liar, are you crazy, did you make all this up, will you ever get past this, will you repeat the pattern, what will happen to your day to day life, how will you cope, what if there is more, what if you can’t remember, maybe it wasn’t that bad, what if I am making a big deal out of nothing, what if you can’t push away the fears, how will you move forward, who will you be, who are you, what if your relationships change, what if you lose everyone, what if you have to do something you don’t want to, what if no one believes you, what if everyone leaves you, what if … what will… how do.. ? The list goes on and on and on.
Let’s get down to the concretes of what actually happens in therapy when dealing with sexual abuse. The client comes in and we talk about the process of abuse therapy and healing. We talk about the fears AROUND talking about the abuse. We talk about expectations and goals of what the client would like from therapy. We look at what specific changes the client will see from themselves as they feel they are moving forward and healing from therapy.
There is usually very little talk directly about what happened specifically. The client is welcomed (but itis based on their own comfort level they do not have to) share who their abuser(s) were and generally what happened afterwards in their life. The client is asked about who knows (if anyone) about the abuse and how those people reacted. There are questions about the client’s own feelings/beliefs about the abuse. And then usually I give the clients some basic readings on people that have experienced past sexual abuse. Finally I encourage them to contact me between sessions if they feel intense emotions based on anything we talked about or anything that comes up. This is an important step so that clients feel that they are not alone in the begininging steps of healing.
The following sessions weave in and out of abuse. I personally have experienced therapy where either there was too much direct talk about the abuse or too much out the outside. Neither approach worked to help me deal with the thoughts/memories/pain AND the real life expectations and patterns of the abuse. So I have created a method that allows us together to talk about specifics, deal with the anxiety of what bringing these topics is like and the consequences, as well as not spending too much focused time as to make the client feel they are trapped. There is discussion about current relationships, current self esteem, and current needs for boundaries. This provides a constant balance of dealing with the past trauma as well as the current reality of life and the future of positive patterns.
The nuts and bolts of the discussions of the past abuse vary from clients to clients. Some people need to talk about a certain abuser but not others, some people need to confront their abuser and some do not, some people need to share with others and some do not, some people need to work on anger and some do not, some need to work on sexual difficulties and some do not. These are only a few of the person-centered approach that is needed.
The basics are the same: dealing with the abuse is a process that requires truth, strength, and support. How we directly go about this requies the client to be willing to re-learn the truth process with a therapist like myself one step at a time. In my opinion abuse is not something you get over it is something that is always a part of you. It is not something that can change. However, what you do with that past and how it impacts your daily life and future choices is something that you are very able to change.
After years of working with survivors this much I know … that you are stronger than you think. You are still here, you are reading this, and you wanting to change. This is proof that you are able to take on the demons and win! Please call or email me if you want support in regaining control of your life!