Sexual Abuse Recovery

Sexual abuse can affect every aspect of our lives: our spirituality, our relationships to ourselves and others, our worldview, our sense of safety, our trust in fellow humans, our sexuality, our relationship to alcohol, drugs, food, money, and our bodies, our sense of self worth… the list tragically continues. Survivors and their loved ones know that the abuse can become a part of one’s everyday life.

During childhood, we develop our sense of ourselves, our patterns of relating to others, and our concept of reality. When a child survives sexual abuse or other trauma, the event(s) become an integral part of this development.  Though we cannot change what happened and how it has affected us, healing is still possible. We can both accept the abuse as part of our history while learning how to manage its effects on our present lives; we can learn to flourish just as we are.

For many, this process is a journey. Whether you are looking for ongoing support in healing form sexual abuse or simply looking for some guidance on a particular part of this journey, together we can try to develop a therapy program that fits your needs. I offer specialized services to survivors and also to their loved ones in the form of individual therapy, couples therapy, group therapy, and workshops. You are always welcome to contact me to schedule a no-cost consultation in my office in Boulder.

Individual Therapy for Sexual Abuse

How does individual therapy for sexual abuse work?

Individual therapy looks different for each individual. In general, there are three phases to working through the abuse:

1. Working on building resources and healthy coping strategies/managing acute symptoms.

This phase helps to prepare you for talking about or otherwise processing what happened. The goal of it is to bring your life into a place where you feel strong stable enough to talk about the trauma. Though it will look different for each individual, some common parts of therapy may be:

A. Managing insomnia, panic, suicidal thoughts, high-risk behaviors, disordered eating, substance abuse, and/or other symptoms/behaviors that may make processing the abuse unsafe/overwhelming;

B. “Resourcing,” or building a plan for how to take care of yourself if you begin to feel overwhelmed;

C. Enriching your life with general self-care strategies, such as eating well, exercising, or spending time with friends, so that you feel better equipped to face the trauma.

2. Processing the trauma.

There are many ways to process the trauma. Together, we will find a way to process the story of what happened that works best for you. Some methods include: EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), creative retelling with words or art, dance/movement therapy, play therapy, guided meditation, and writing.

3. Continuing to process how the trauma continues to affect your life. Integrating the trauma into the present.

rainbowThere is never a point in which you will feel completely “over it” or no longer affected by the trauma. Therapy is not able to erase what happened. However, it can help you to live a flourishing life while accepting what cannot be undone.

A key part of healing from the abuse is grieving what happened—grieving a lost childhood and a lost sense of safety in the world are common experiences. Therapy can also help with other common phases of emotions sexual abuse survivors feel, such as:

-Anger

-Struggles with sexuality, intimacy, and relationships

-Shame/guilt/self-blame

-Figuring out how to relate to family/ perpetrators

-Depression

-Denial and believing it happened

-Recovering a sense of safety and learning to trust yourself

-Developing healthy boundaries

-Finding a middle ground between overwhelm and avoidance

-Learning to manage whatever emotion arises in the moment

 

Couples Therapy for Sexual Abuse

 When one or both partners in a couple have survived sexual abuse or assault, this trauma becomes an integral part of the relationship. It can have a tremendous effect on trust, communication, sex, and intimacy. It is likely to become a part of daily life together.

The survivor may have difficulty trusting anyone and may be terrified of sex or of his/her partner becoming abusive. He or she may feel damaged or unlovable, not believing it possible for a partner to stay in the relationship. The partner of an abuse survivor may at times feel treated like the perpetrator, or may even begin to take on symptoms of the trauma his or herself. He or she may feel helpless in being able to fix the situation, and fearful of saying or doing something that may trigger his or her partner into panic or sorrow.

However, working through this trauma together can be immensely rewarding for both individuals. With proper guidance, a loving relationship has the power to heal even the deepest and most horrific of wounds. Working through a sexual abuse trauma together can ignite an amazing, life-long bond of true trust and intimacy.

To aide in this healing journey, it is helpful to have safe place to talk about relationship issues that may arise–one where both partners’ experiences can exist in harmony. Therapy can help couples build the tools to both flourish as individuals and grow in their love for one another.

Individual therapy for partners of sexual abuse survivors is also offered.

Sexual Abuse Counseling FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions For Survivors and Loved Ones:

How do I know what happened to me was abuse?

It is very common for survivors of sexual abuse to feel as though what happened to them is not a “good enough” reason to seek therapy. Sexual abuse can come in many forms, including inappropriate sexual language, lack of respect for personal boundaries or privacy, exposure to sexual content, and other forms of abuse that don’t necessarily involve sex or touch.

Regardless of what happened, if you feel traumatized, you can benefit from trauma therapy. The point of therapy is to work through how the trauma affected you personally.

 

When I am reminded of the abuse, my panic/anxiety/depression get worse. Can therapy do me more harm than good?

Many sexual abuse survivors feel like they have no middle ground between completely avoiding the effects of the abuse and being completely, and unsafely, consumed by their history. Talking about the abuse may feel like jumping into a bottomless well of fear, terror, and sadness.

A large part of trauma therapy is developing a middle ground between these two extremes, so that you feel comfortable to confront what happened to you while still staying emotionally regulated. If the abuse was a deep ocean, therapy can help you to build a dock; from that dock, you can start by sticking a toe in the water and processing the abuse at a rate that is safe for you. I strongly advocate building both trust in our relationship and also healthy coping strategies so that when you are ready to start confronting the abuse, it does not have to be so scary.

 

I worked through my abuse years ago. Now suddenly I am experiencing trauma symptoms again. Why?

There are many events that can re-trigger abuse trauma throughout a person’s life. Some of the more common ones are:

–       Having a child

–       When your child reaches the age you were when you were abused

–       Anniversaries of the abuse or other events surrounding the abuse

–       Interactions with family members; the holidays

–       Becoming informed of a loved one having been abused

–       Surgery or other medical procedures

The abuse may “come and go” throughout your life; if symptoms return after periods of peace, it does not mean you have regressed or that your previous therapy “didn’t work.” Though it is difficult, remain patient and have compassion for yourself. If you feel that therapy services would be of benefit now, we can pick up where you may have left off.

 

Sometimes I feel as though something happened to me, but I don’t have any memory of being abused. What could have happened?

 It is very common for us to not remember traumatic events, especially ones that occurred during childhood. This is something that happens on a physical level; it may be seen as a survival mechanism designed by nature to protect us. Science is continuing to find that trauma has intense effects on the brain and memory loss. Some people may remember disjointed fragments of the trauma while others do not remember anything at all.

It is also important to remember that sexual abuse comes in many forms; exposure to sexualized language or content, having boundaries disrespected, or other forms of “covert” sexual abuse can affect us as drastically as physical sexual abuse. Regardless of the form of the abuse, healing is possible, and you deserve to heal.

In therapy, repressed memories may resurface, or they may not. You may never gain a clear picture of what happened. Whether or not you know exactly what happened to you, if you feel traumatized and are suffering, healing is possible, and trauma therapy may be beneficial.

 

My abuse history is affecting my current relationship. What can we do as a couple to work through this?

 I offer couples therapy and couples workshops centered around the experience of being in a relationship effected by childhood sexual abuse. I also see loved ones of survivors in individual therapy.

 

 

~

Atacama Counseling, LLC- Sexual Abuse Counseling Services

Boulder, Colorado

 

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Rachael Uris, MA, LPC is the owner of Atacama Counseling, LLC, offering sex therapy as well as individual and couple's counseling for issues surrounding sexuality, love, and pregnancy. All services are located in downtown Boulder, Colorado, and are provided in English and Spanish.
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