Updated: Feb 26, 2021
How Can Counselling for Sexual Violence Help Me?
Counselling can provide survivors with a safe, supportive environment to explore the trauma they have experienced, and the impact it has had on all aspects of their lives. Counselling for sexual violence allows you to do this at your own pace and in your own time. It can help you understand the symptoms you are experiencing. Seeing a counsellor or therapist can help provide you with the tools to cope with the nightmares, flashbacks, challenging emotions and other difficulties that you might be struggling with.
Additionally, counselling can help you to unpick and explore the various emotions you are feeling (such as guilt, shame, emptiness and hopelessness). Through counselling, you will be able to learn to challenge distressing thoughts such as "it was my fault", "I am broken" or "I deserved it." Remember these are thoughts, and not facts - counselling can provide you with the tools you need to be able to recognise this more.
The therapeutic process for recovering from sexual violence can involve grieving for what you have lost (for example your sense of identity and your sense of trust), recognising what you have survived and regaining a sense of safety within yourself and within your world.
It can be difficult talking about your experiences, especially at the beginning of your therapeutic journey, when you haven't yet had the chance to build a strong rapport with your therapist. You may wish to consider a therapist who can incorporate non-verbal techniques, such as art therapy (which involves creating images, or other pieces of artwork) or sand-tray therapy (which involves creating scenes using sand and various figurines to represent experiences or emotions).
Seeking professional help can feel scary and overwhelming. It takes courage to reach out for support. It is important to remember that each survivor's healing journey is unique. Some may reach out for counselling straight after an event as happened, but others may take five, ten or twenty years to reach out.
Common Reactions After A Recent Rape or Sexual Assault
Each survivor's way of coping and healing journey is unique to them. However, there are some common physical and emotional reactions after experiencing a recent rape or sexual assault, that many survivors experience at some point or another. Some or all of them may resonate with you. Or, perhaps none of them do - we all cope differently. Our emotions can also manifest in different ways. For example, many survivors will feel shock and anger, but this doesn't look the same for everyone. Shock can manifest though physical symptoms such as shaking, feeling nauseous or laughing. Others may feel numb. Anger can manifest through visible outbursts of anger, but anger can also just as easily be turned inwardly towards ourselves.
· Dry mouth
· Feelings of lethargy, tiredness and exhaustion
· Headaches / dizziness
· Nausea / sore stomach
· Needing to go to the toilet all the time / diarrhoea
· Panic Attacks
· Rapid unsteady breathing
· Tense muscles
· Tight chest / increased and rapid heartrate
· Feeling hopeless
· Irritability / Moodiness
· Loss of self-confidence
You may also:
· Change your eating patterns
· Dissociate (feeling disconnected from your thoughts, surroundings and memories)
· Experience Flashbacks (when you feel like a traumatic event is happening again, or you relive some aspects of the event)
· Experience intrusive thoughts (unwanted thoughts related to the traumatic event)
· Feel or have suicidal thoughts
· Have nightmares
· Increase risk-taking behaviour (e.g. drinking, taking drugs, sexually risky behaviour, self- harming)
· Neglect yourself
· Struggle with your memory
I hope this article has helped to provide some information on what counselling support for sexual violence may look like. You can find a directory of resources and support services for survivors of sexual violence here.
Healing is Possible
Survivors commonly blame themselves. Try to remember, what happened was not your fault. You are not alone and there is support out there for you. You deserve to be believed and listened to. Everyone reacts differently, and there is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to react. I hope this article will help survivors to feel less alone. If you are struggling, please do consider reaching out to someone for support, whether it be a therapist, trusted friend or family member. You are not alone.