David Pittman reviews some of the therapeutic options for recovery from sexual abuse—from the traditional to the experimental.
“Childhood Sexual Abuse”
Three words that ignite a maelstrom of emotions and fears. Terror, anger, hate, betrayal, shame, guilt, blame. And the impact it can have on someone who actually manages to survive it can be almost as much of a nightmare as the abuse itself. It can and often does result in addiction, depression, anxiety, abandonment, PTSD, the damage it may cause to our DNA…Lions and Tigers and Bears, OH MY!!! I make that joke not to make light of our station as survivors, but rather to bring a little levity to a situation that for some of us feels like the sky is falling on our heads and we are being attacked on multiple fronts by creatures that can devour us. So with all of these potential pitfalls and perils seeming to lurk around every corner, what do we do?
Having done my usual research and even stepping into waters just being tested, I have come across both the usual suspects of therapy and a couple not so well-known. It is my hope that even if one of the therapies I discuss does not help you or a loved one, you find one that does. What I do know, what I am certain of, is healing from abuse is not something that happens naturally. It takes help, it takes time and it takes work. So please do whatever you need, to reach out and find the help that is available.
Under the category of “usual but relatively proven” therapies we find Psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Group Therapy, and Self-Help Groups.
Psychotherapy consists of a series of techniques for treating mental health, emotional and some psychiatric disorders. Psychotherapy helps the patient understand what helps them feel positive or anxious, as well as accepting their strong and weak points. If people can identify their feelings and ways of thinking they become better at coping with difficult situations.
Psychotherapy is commonly used for psychological problems that have had a number of years to accumulate. It only works if a trusting relationship can be built up between the client and the psychotherapist. Treatment can continue for several months, and even years.
Some people refer to psychotherapy as “talking treatment” because it is generally based on talking to the therapist or group of people with similar problems. Some forms of psychotherapy also use other forms of communication, including writing, artwork, drama, narrative story or music. Sessions take place within a structured encounter between a qualified therapist and a client or clients. Purposeful, theoretically based psychotherapy started in the 19th century with psychoanalysis; it has developed significantly since then.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps patients understand the thoughts and feelings that influence behaviors. CBT is commonly used to treat a wide range of disorders, including phobias, addiction, depression and anxiety.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is generally short-term and focused on helping clients deal with a very specific problem. During the course of treatment, people learn how to identify and change destructive or disturbing thought patterns that have a negative influence on behavior.
The underlying concept behind CBT is that our thoughts and feelings play a fundamental role in our behavior. For example, a person who spends a lot of time thinking about plane crashes, runway accidents and other air disasters may find themselves avoiding air travel. The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to teach patients that while they cannot control every aspect of the world around them, they can take control of how they interpret and deal with things in their environment. Because CBT is usually a short-term treatment option, it is often more affordable than some other types of therapy. CBT is also empirically supported and has been shown to effectively help patients overcome a wide variety of maladaptive behaviors.
Delivered in a group setting, thus the name, Group Therapy and Self-Help Groups are for people who have experienced abuse but gain the benefit of hearing from others they are not alone. It can be an extremely cathartic experience. Individuals who feel different, ashamed, or guilty as a result of the abuse will benefit immensely from discovering other people who have lived through similar experiences. Although not limited to groups like SNAP and The Lamplighters, they are certainly organizations that have proven them to be helpful for survivors of CSA.
(Note: My friend and colleague, Rachel Grant, leads an Adult Survivors of Child Abuse support group every month in San Francisco – www.rachelgrantcoaching.com – and I am the South Florida Area support group leader for SNAP – Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests – www.snapnetwork.org – Additionally, the foundation, “Together We Heal” helps to provide counseling for those in need – Togetherweheal.wordpress.com – Be sure to contact either of us and we can tell you more).
Next we have some relatively newer therapies, with regard to years of experience in the realm of psychology. TRE (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises) is one.
TRE is a simple technique that uses exercises to release stress or tension from the body that accumulates from every day circumstances of life, from difficult situations, immediate or prolonged stressful situations, or traumatic life experiences.
TRE is a set of six exercises that help to release deep tension from the body by evoking a self-controlled muscular shaking process in the body called neurogenic muscle tremors. The uniqueness of this technique is that this shaking originates deep in the core of the body of the psoas muscles. These gentle tremors reverberate outwards along the spine releasing tension from the sacrum to the cranium.
Another is by a former associate professor at the University of Kentucky’s educational and counseling psychology department, Kate Chard and it centers on Cognitive Processing. “It was the first NIMH-funded treatment outcome study on childhood sexual abuse,” she says. This three-year study of women (Chard has done an equivalent study with men) took adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse through a 17-week, manual-based program, with individual or a combination of individual and group sessions.
“What you think affects what you feel, which, in turn, affects what you do,” Chard says, summing up the basic theory behind cognitive therapy. “We build on this by saying that due to the traumatic event, the ability to process cognitively has become impaired. Biologists can look at the neurotransmitter connections in the brain and actually see differences between people who’ve been through traumatic events, such as childhood abuse, and people who have not.”
Another option is coaching. While still fairly new, coaching is a great option for survivors of abuse who are ready to move into the final stage of recovery. If you would like to learn more about coaching, you can of course give Rachel a call or email. She’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about how coaching works.
While these are by no means all of the potential therapies out there, the point I am hoping comes through today is that no matter which type of therapy you seek as a survivor of abuse, the point is that you indeed seek one, and don’t stop until you find the one that works for you.
I had a reader ask me if I had heard of any therapies for survivors as they related to the use of animals, they spoke specifically of horses. And while I did not find any with horses, what I DID find was some exciting news. I discovered the following article and subsequent foundation that uses dogs to help survivors of all types of trauma, and other therapeutic needs. While it’s not specific for CSA, I have no doubt that it has the potential to help both children and adult survivors of CSA as it does with other forms of trauma. So please look into it if you are finding what you have tried has not been successful.
And thank you to the reader that brought this to my attention. You may never know who all will be helped with this knowledge, but you can rest assured that someone will benefit from it. Thank you!
As I mentioned earlier, it is of the utmost importance that you find professional help. The main objective is to keep trying until you find what works for you. We are all different and what works for one might not work for another. Just as a police officer or soldier is required to see a therapist when they go through an extraordinary time of trauma, we, as survivors of childhood sexual abuse, need assistance. What we have been through is beyond an extraordinary event, it’s beyond the pale. And seeking help does not mean we are weak, it shows no signs of lacking anything.
Seeking help means you care enough about yourself and the ones that love you that you will take the necessary steps to ensure your continued growth and well-being as a person. Let me say this again, you aren’t weak, you are human, it’s ok for others to help you.
An earlier version of this post appeared at Together We Heal
Photo: Flickr/Victor Bezrukov