Sexual abuse counseling is often the first place where the victim reveals what had happened to them. As such, it is also a place where everything needs to go perfectly so that the trauma is not exacerbated. This is why it is important to select the right therapist or support group and to understand what the process will look like. This article will outline what a person can expect in sexual abuse counseling.
The trauma and why it is essential to get counseling
Sexual abuse, which is any form of non-consensual sexual contact is never really about sex as much as about control and power. Which is, for the most part, what makes the trauma so powerful and overwhelming. For the majority of victims, it is, unfortunately, the beginning of a very long road to healing.
Sexual abuse counseling often begins when the survivor approaches a therapist for any of the psychological disturbances that tend to accompany the victims throughout their lives. Once the therapist and the client start to explore what might have caused these problems, sexual abuse surfaces as the underlying cause of it all. It is not uncommon that the survivor leads a chaotic life due to their inability to tackle the trauma adaptively.
Whether the victim suffered the abuse as a child or as an adult, although the differences in experience can be very different, the consequences tend to revolve around several mental health disorders. Primarily, post-traumatic stress disorder presents a very common reaction to the trauma and comes with a range of hindrances to everyday functioning.
What often accompanies post-traumatic stress disorder (or happens on its own) are emotional disorders. Depression and anxiety, as well as phobia, are the most common complaints made by the victims of sexual abuse in counseling. Possibly in an attempt to escape the painful memories and flashbacks, the survivors frequently fall into addiction.
These issues need to be addressed on their own in counseling. But, they will come back if the root cause to them all is not treated, which is the trauma of abuse.
The trust in sexual abuse counseling
Victims of sexual abuse, in addition to the emotional problems we mentioned earlier, also have one great issue they have to deal with on a daily basis – difficulty forming attachments. Whether the victim has been abused as a child, an adolescent, or an adult, the breach of trust and sense of security will inevitably influence the way in which the survivor forms new attachments.
The effects can be diverse, but the common ground is an affected ability to form healthy and trusting relationships with others. The victim could avoid getting attached altogether. Such person never stays long in one relationship, never forms a deeper connection, and tries to live as a lone wolf. They don’t avoid others but have chaotic relationships and an insecure attachment. Some tend to be clingy once they form a connection with someone and never seem to get enough affirmation of that person’s affection.
This unhealthy attachment pattern inevitably severely affects therapeutic relationship. For a victim, anyone can be an abuser, even if such fear is not experienced consciously. This is why the very first step in each sexual abuse counseling is developing trust and creating a safe environment in which the client will be able to revisit the trauma without becoming even more disturbed by its aftereffects.
The emotional rollercoaster in sexual abuse counseling
The counseling will guide the client through what can be described as a process of emotional turmoil or a rollercoaster. The consequences of the sexual abuse are not simple, and the healing also cannot be. The range of emotional reactions the client will go through is enormous, and the survivor can expect to feel joy, pride, pain and fear all in one session.
Many victims of sexual abuse unconsciously perform a sort of a self-hypnosis. They experience something that is called dissociation, a state in which the traumatic memories are detached from the rest of the person’s conscious experience. These dissociated memories feel as if they were something alien to ourselves. Yet, they tend to find their way back to consciousness in a form of intrusive flashbacks, images, thoughts or sensations.
The survivor of sexual abuse who engages in counseling has to be thoroughly prepared that these flashbacks will become all too real. At one point, the entire array of fear, terror, hurt, pain, anger, shame and guilt will all be very vivid and difficult to handle. Yet, this is the first and unavoidable step towards finally becoming free of the trauma and free from the abuser.