Sexual Abuse, Sexual Assault, Rape & Incest Counselling
Sexual Abuse, sexual assault, rape and incest counselling has a Beginning, Middle and an End … and it can help!
If you were sexually abused, raped, or a victim of incest, it is important for you to know that we, at Harbourfront Psychotherapy, can help you overcome the problems arising from the abuse or assault -- regardless if it was a single incident or repeated multiple times over many years. These problems can range from difficulty forming new relationships, lack of trust in others, fearfulness of certain situations, misdirected anger, rage and blame. You will most likely encounter problems now and years down the line, with your partner in terms of intimacy and sex. In fact, you may have noticed that we are also sex therapists, so this is an area we are very familiar with and comfortable discussing with you -- but only if, and when, you are ready.
The statistics are staggering. According to the University of Victoria's Sexual Assault Centre:
1 in 3 females in Canada experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18. 1 in 6 males in Canada experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18. 80% of all child abusers are the father, foster father, stepfather or another relative or close family friend of the victim. Incestuous relationships last 7 years on average 75% of mothers are not aware of the incest in their family 60-80% of offenders in a study of imprisoned rapists had been molested as children
Victims of Sexual Assault and Rape often get immediate "counselling" at a rape centre or as part of a hospital out-patient basis by the hospital social worker. These are very helpful to victims of rape and sexual assult -- but crisis counselling is usually very short-term counselling and deals only with the immediacy of the trauma, not the over-all picture of who you are and how this rape or assault has affected you in other relationships and aspects of your life. And for the victims of sexual abuse and incest -- these women and men often do not seek help for many years after the sexual abuse and incest has taken place.
Without counselling, these problems will not go away -- in fact, may very well worsen over time.
Knowing what to expect in counselling can make it easier for you to attend. Regardless of whether you were sexually abused, sexually assaulted, raped or a victim of incest, counselling can be thought of in three stages:
The beginning stage of counselling begins with disclosure and is characterized by issues of trust, self-doubt and even feelings of shame by some survivors.
As a result of the disclosure, you may feel a rush of various emotions that in turn may trigger a variety of defence mechanisms. You may feel like fleeing, but hang in, it's normal to feel this way and necessary so that you can move forward in your life. You may also experience vivid recollections of past abusive events. If you were a child at the time, you may be "catapolted" to the past, to the age when an assult, rape or incest occurred. No matter what happened to you and at what age, these recollections can flood your consciousness during waking hours or intrude during sleep as nightmares. These are the hallmarks of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
For this very reason, it is important that you choose a therapist with extensive training in sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape and incest, because the last thing you need right now is to be re-traumatized at the hands of an inexperienced therapist.
At Harbourfront Psychotherapy, we understand how important it is, especially in the beginning stage of counselling, to go slowly and carefully monitor as well as limit your disclosure and exposure so that you avoid being overwhelmed. The beginning stage, for us, is all about making you feel safe and comfortable and "ready" to overcome the obstacles you are facing.
The middle stage of counselling begins as a continuation of the first. Issues of trust, safety and security will be emergent and reoccurring themes. If there has been a prior unsuccessful counselling effort, you may be ambivalent about the counsellor with concerns that the shortcomings of the previous experience will be experienced yet again. It is therefore important to discuss prior counselling efforts and concerns with your counsellor.
As counselling progresses and you are more comfortable, your defences will relax and more personal detail of the abusive events may be disclosed. However you may still find this overwhelming.
This is where we may use other means of expression -- if the words are too painful. For example, focussed journalling, writing poetry and art therapy. I have had musicians write songs about the pain they were feeling and how their innocence was robbed. When words are too diffucult, we approach therapy in different ways that are gentle. You set the pace -- always.
The role of the counsellor is to normalize your reactions and help you pace the disclosure and exploration of events and thus help you gain control of your own emotions and reactions. Without counselling -- anything can trigger a flashback and uncontrollable tears -- a song that is played (because it was playing during the attack), the scent of a specific cologne or perfume, something that is said, the way someone touches you. You think you have it all together -- but you fall apart without warning. Throughout the middle stage of therapy, the counsellor will also help you make connections from past abusive events to present day symptoms.
In the middle stage of counselling you may experience relief and/or exacerbation of symptoms – ups
and downs. This is to be expected and is normal in the recovery process. Don’t be alarmed and feel free to discuss these ups and downs with the counsellor. As counselling continues, you will learn that the abuse and current symptoms are not a function of your worth, value and humanity, but wrongful events perpetrated against you beyond your control. As we gently proceed, you will feel a tremendous weight lifted off your shoulders.
You will learn to separate your sense of self from the abuse and the abuser and establish a healthier
identity. You will then be in a position to appropriately assess your own interpersonal relationships
and make better choices. Further, you will be able to identify and separate your needs and issues
from others and choose how to best meet competing needs. Eventually, your symptoms will subside.
The middle stage draws to a close as you demonstrate enough symptom relief and improved
psychosocial functioning to manage independently.
By the end of counselling, you may feel gratitude and a reluctance for it to end. Your relationship to the counsellor may have been your healthiest inter-personal experience in that it was non-exploitive. This can give rise to a significant attachment. To ease the ending, you can request a more gradual reduction of meetings or meetings of shorter duration, “check-ins”. You can also request the opportunity to reconnect if necessary as for a “booster shot”. At Harbourfront Psychotherapy, our doors are always open and many clients do come back every now and then for a single appointment.
The end of counselling will also signal the beginning of your new life. The emergence of the "new you" ... confident, happy and not afraid. It may also signal other changes you want to make in your life, but with the overwhelming burden you have been carrying around, we not able to move beyond this. This could be the beginning of new educational opportunities. You may explore a new lifestyle or new career opportunities. Harbourfront Psychotherapy can most assuredly help you in this transition, including testing for suitable careers and telling you where to get the training. In all cases, you will be encouraged to go out into life, manage ambiguity and uncertainty, learn and flourish.
Don’t be held hostage by fear. If you have been sexually abused, sexually assaulted, raped or are a victim of incest, the sooner you see us at Harbourfront Psychotherapy, the sooner the healing begins.
Counselling can help and now you know what to expect!