April 14, 2014

Sexual Assault Counseling & Recovery

Written by Rachel Eddins

Posted in Emotional & Mental Health and with tags:

sexual assault counseling white woman broken mirror self-reflection

What is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault occurs when one person forces any unwanted sexual contact onto another person. It can involve a stranger, friend, partner, or acquaintance. It can involve any type of unwanted sexual behavior.

Being sexually assaulted involves both physical and psychological assault. Assault victims experience a range of emotions that include fear, shame, anger, and depression.

Most sexual assault victims are women, and most perpetrators are men. However, a significant number of males also are sexually assaulted. For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to the victims in this article as females.

Stages of Sexual Assault Recovery

Sexual assault victims usually have emotional and physical reactions that fall into three stages. These can be described as shock, adjustment, and resolution.

Shock usually lasts from a few hours to several weeks. The victim experiences shock, disbelief, fear, and anger. She may have phobic reactions to the place where the sexual assault occurred. She may also have flashbacks, an immediate sense of reliving the sexual assault, and trouble sleeping.

Adjustment comes next. During this temporary stage, the victim begins to feel like her life is returning to normal and tries to regain some sense of control. She may deny the impact of the assault.

Resolution is the time when healing occurs. It is often an uncomfortable period for the victim. She may have many of the same feelings that she experienced immediately following the assault, but now she is closer to being ready to resolve them. She may feel depressed, experience mood swings, feel cut off from others, or need to isolate herself. During this stage of recovery, many victims seek sexual assault counseling services.

Common Responses to Sexual Assault

Most sexual assault victims report some of the following physical and emotional symptoms:

  • Apathy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Eating disorders
  • Feeling nervous or jumpy
  • Feelings of depression, sadness, and hopelessness
  • Guilt
  • Headaches
  • Hypervigilance
  • Inability to express emotions
  • Inability to trust others
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability and anger
  • Isolation
  • Less interest in activities
  • Less interest in sex
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Nightmares and flashbacks
  • Panic attacks
  • Physical pain
  • Poor appetite
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (chronic anxiety, depression, and flashbacks)
  • Self-mutilation
  • Shame and embarrassment
  • Shock and denial
  • Substance abuse
  • Thoughts of suicide and death

Sexual Assault Counseling & Recovery Steps

counselingCrisis intervention is an important first step. The first few days after an assault can be especially turbulent, and victims need the unique skills of counselors who are trained to respond to crises.

Post traumatic symptoms are also greatly reduced the closer to the incident the trauma is processed.

Individual counseling is highly recommended. Any person who has been sexually assaulted will benefit from individual counseling sessions with a caring, experienced, mental health professional.

Group therapy for sexual assault victims is an excellent way for victims to talk about their experiences with other in a supportive and nonjudgmental atmosphere.

Couples counseling can help the victim and her partner to explore their feelings, talk about how the assault is impacting their relationship, and learn coping skills.

EMDR Therapy for Healing Traumatic Stress

In conjunction with individual therapy, EMDR therapy may also help to alleviate symptoms associated with post traumatic stress. Sexual assault is a traumatic experience both physically and emotionally.

EMDR therapy is a type of therapy specifically designed to resolve trauma and trauma symptoms. It is often used in conjunction with individual therapy. Read more about EMDR therapy here. 

Childhood Sexual Abuse Counseling

Unfortunately, sexual assault may also have occurred in childhood. Some individuals may recall clearly what happened, but try to put it out of their mind and others may have no memory until adulthood.

This is the nature of trauma. As it is a significant trauma, it is important to process childhood sexual abuse with a trained counselor.

This doesn’t mean you have to relive everything, but rather make sense of how it impacted you, your beliefs about self, and your physical and emotional symptoms of trauma.

Often, life after trauma becomes your new normal and it’s difficult to see how significant the impacts were on your sense of self as well as your sense of safety in the world. Therapy can help you resolve the trauma from your past as well as alleviating symptoms such as fear, shame, and unworthiness.

Recovery Prognosis

Since every person and situation is different, victims of sexual assault respond to an assault in different ways. Many factors can influence an individual’s recovery from sexual assault. Some examples include the following:

  • The circumstances surrounding the assault
  • The severity of the assault
  • The victim’s relationship to the perpetrator
  • How police and medical workers respond to the assault
  • The victim’s age and maturity level
  • How the victim views the attack and what meaning she gives it
  • The victim’s support system
  • The quality of the response of the victim’s family and friends
  • Community attitudes toward sexual assault

Based on these factors, some survivors of sexual assault recover fairly quickly. Others feel the effects of the experience throughout their lifetime.

Sexual Assault Counseling Services in Houston

If you’ve experienced sexual assault or childhood sexual abuse, it’s important to find a safe and trustworthy counselor to process your experience with.

You may not feel ready or comfortable talking about your story, and that’s okay. It can still be quite beneficial to look at the impacts it has had on yourself as well as working on reducing the symptoms you’re experiencing.

To find out more call us at 832-559-262 or click here to schedule an appointment online. You can recover and reclaim your life again!

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