Many clients come to see me because of symptoms due to either molest, rape or other sexual trauma. Two weeks ago, I talked about types of sexual trauma and last week I talked about how sexual trauma can affect sexuality. This article, though brief will succinctly describe some of the things I do and recommend to help people heal from sexual trauma. Here are 7 keys to healing from sexual trauma:
1) Relationships are very important. Having loved ones, or a friend or two to talk about the sexual trauma is a big part of healing. Talking gives the sexual trauma victim a chance to process the emotions and other parts of the memory but in addition, just the sense of feeling loved is very important for recovery. Therapists such as myself also know that we need to develop a deep and trusting relationship with the client. The client needs to feel safe. As the client feels safe; the foundation is being laid for therapeutic healing.
2) EMDR is an amazingly effective and relatively painless process to help sexual trauma victims get past their past. As a psychotherapist, I have been utilizing EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) to help clients with sexual trauma process the traumatic memory quickly, live more in the present moment and connect with their positive internal resources and strengths. I highly recommend EMDR for anyone who has experienced sexual trauma (or trauma of any kind).
3) Yoga and meditation is so helpful as it helps the trauma victim reconnect with his or her body and be in the present moment. In his classic book on Trauma, “The Body Keeps the Score,” Bessel Van Der Kolk says that in addition to EMDR, yoga and meditation can help people heal from trauma and feel good in their bodies. I recommend consistent a Yoga and Meditation practice to my sexually traumatized clients.
4) If possible and with the appropriate support in place, confront the perpetrator if you haven’t already. The sense of powerlessness of being a victim can be transformed when the person who was victimized can feel the sense of empowerment of taking care of him or herself when confronting the perpetrator. I cannot emphasize enough that there needs to be good interpersonal support and the client needs to be in an emotionally stable place. If it is not possible to confront the perpetrator, whether it is because of death, distance or some other reason, confront the perpetrator in your imagination. The benefits can sometimes be just as much than if done in the external world.
5) Find support groups. There are more groups to help adults molested as children, rape victims, etc. This can be short-term groups or ongoing groups.
6) Get a qualified therapist to help you through this. A therapist who is trained in this area will help you navigate through the challenges and help you heal utilizing all the 5 points made above as well as the 7th one below.
7) If you are in an intimate relationship, have the partner get involved in your healing. A loving, supportive, mature partner can accelerate your healing by being a good listener; reassuring you and helping you associate touch and physical connection with positive feelings (with the help of a therapist). I will go into more detail with this point # 7 next week.