5 Reasons to Seek a Sexual Abuse Counselor

Sexual Abuse Counselor

Counseling is Counseling, Right?

 

Recently I was at a networking event and was asked what I do. So, I said my usual spiel, “I’m a trauma therapist and run a sexual abuse counseling center.” The other counselor I was talking with said, “Well, all therapists do trauma, so that’s not really a specialty.” Ahem…I beg to differ.

You see, a lot of therapists do treat sexual abuse as part of their overall practice, but that does not mean they all do it well. Don’t get me wrong. These are good therapists—well-meaning and ethical. Many have lots of clinical experience and get good results. But the reality is that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) requires specialized training, and Sexual Abuse, in particular, requires a therapist with the experience and support around them to heal the negative effects of sexual abuse effectively.

Benefits of A Sexual Abuse Counselor

 

PTSD Brain

  • Trauma brain is different than non-trauma brain. 

When someone has experienced a life or self-threatening event, they have a one in three chance of developing PTSD. The more traumas you experience, the more likely you are to develop PTSD. It’s kind of like how a small chip in your windshield is more likely to make a huge crack if it keeps getting hit with stones.

Once you have PTSD, your brain does not work the same until the PTSD is healed. The trauma is stored in the “here and now”. So, when something reminds you of what happened, your body starts to react as if it’s going on right now. You might not even be aware of the sound, smell, or other trigger that made your body remember. Then, all the sudden, your heart is racing–you feel little/dirty/unsafe. This is automatic and often unconscious. It can also be super intense. You feel “crazy” and out of control–like you can’t even trust your own instincts and body because you just never know when it will happen.

Now, you go into therapy, and the first thing most therapists will do is ask you to talk about it. This will trigger that same process of re-experiencing that you have been trying to avoid. So, maybe you “numb out” or maybe you leave and fall apart. Maybe you cut yourself to make the pain manageable.

A well-trained sexual abuse counselor will do things differently. He or she will give you tools right from the start to better manage these feelings. Your counselor will tell you NOT to give all the details until you are ready.  

  1. Trauma work is different.

For most talk therapy, you come in, talk about what’s come up that week, and this informs the rest of the session. Maybe there is some homework to do during the week, and you explore themes connections that help you make positive changes in your life. For the most part, you, as the client, are dictating what is worked on in each session.

This process does not work with PTSD treatment.

Let’s face it. No one wants to revisit their worst memories. No one wants to re-experience their scariest, most awful experiences ever. And yet, all trauma work incorporates this in one fashion or another.

So most of us naturally avoid it. Worse, untrained or unsupported therapists find themselves avoiding or changing the subject because we do not want to “re-traumatize” our clients.

Good sexual abuse counseling definitely does not re-traumatize. However, a good sexual abuse counselor is skilled in making it safe to address the issue rather than to avoid. A good trauma therapist helps you build the skills needed to handle the emotions and body sensations that arise from the memory. Then, they actively guide (but do not push) you towards the bad memories as you become ready to face them. Once you can face a memory without being overwhelmed, you start thinking and feeling differently about it. This is body’s the healing process.  

  1. Trauma work needs a definite beginning and end.

Because trauma work is hard, no one wants it to last forever. Traditional psychotherapy (where you dig into new insights and work for years to uncover the unconscious reasons that cause you to do certain things) is great–but not for a traumatized brain. Trauma work should be short-term and have a definite beginning and ending. This way, you can always see the light at the end of the tunnel. Otherwise, most get lost in the tunnel and are likely to give up.

Your sexual abuse counselor’s experience is that light at the end of the tunnel. A good trauma therapist always knows exactly where you are in the process and can give you reassurance that you are on the right path. Once trauma work is complete, you can opt to work more loosely with any remaining issues you may want to address.

  1. If you don’t use it, you lose it.

Trauma work is tough and takes special attention to details. If a counselor does not do trauma work on a regular basis—even if they have adequate training and experience—those skills get rusty.

This can be pretty dangerous because people dealing with PTSD symptoms often also suffer from depression and other sometimes severe anxiety symptoms. Your therapist needs to be highly in tune to how connected you feel within the session and how high your emotions are at any moment.

Many people freeze as part of the PTSD reaction. This can cause them to “numb out” or dissociate. This causes people to be completely out of touch with their experience. Often, they are unaware this is happening. Dissociation can also cause a person to struggle with verbalizing how they feel. Afterwards, when they “come to”, they are often flooded with emotions, flashbacks, and/or body sensations. Clearly, we want to avoid this.  

So, having a therapist who is trained to watch for the signs of dissociation and knows how to bring you back into the present with safety is paramount. Once you can do it with your therapist, you will learn to do it on your own. This is the beginning of regaining control in your life and is a big part of the healing process.

  1. Support Matters

The final piece that may be missing in a more generalized or smaller counseling setting is support for the therapist. Sexual abuse counseling is intense. It requires counselors to be 100% present, care deeply for their clients, and hear stories that can haunt dreams (as anyone suffering from PTSD can tell you).

A good sexual abuse counselor has a built-in support system with the checks and balances needed to make sure that when they step into the counseling room with you, they have already dealt with their own stuff. Instead, they are able to tune in to your needs. In this way, your treatment goes smoother and faster.

Summing Up

 

hope after sexual abuseIf you have been struggling with a sexual abuse or assault experience that will not seem to let you move on, there is hope. Even if you have had counseling in the past that did not help, do not give up. You might just need a more specialized therapist.

Look for someone who offers more than one trauma-specific treatment options. This gives you flexibility to try different modalities to see what feels like a good fit for you. It also shows that your counselor has invested extensive time and resources towards specialized training. Finally, memberships in trauma-related professional organizations is always a plus. It means your therapist has access to a broader network for their own support and continued education.  

And, of course, if you have questions, our staff at Hope For The Journey are here to help.

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