Therapy for survivors of abuse

If you have been the victim of sexual abuse or experienced other trauma, it is likely that you’ve tried to just move on and not think about it. If you feel that your experiences are catching up to you, therapy might be able to help you heal.

Abuse and trauma

The effects of traumatic experiences often lead to symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, anger management challenges, feelings of guilt, and personality disorders. If you experience feelings of shame or excessive guilt and have experienced sexual violence or abuse at any point in your life, your feelings may stem from your trauma.

Often, the effects of trauma emerge years, even decades later, as:

  • Struggling to communicate effectively at work
  • Struggling in romantic relationships
  • Feelings of shame and guilt (survivors often experience feelings of shame and guilt even though they did nothing wrong)
  • Feeling stuck or unable to move forward in your life
  • Excessive drinking or drug use
  • Frequently feeling anger, aggression, impatience, or frustration (and then feeling ashamed for feeling this way or the way you behaved in these moments)

Why trauma can be so pernicious

Trauma commonly involves a range of actors, including, but not limited to, a sense of current threat, betrayal of trust, violation of boundaries, loss of power, entrapment, helplessness, confusion, pain, dissociation, and loss. When abuse or neglect is perpetrated by a parent, other family member, or an adult that you would have expected to protect you, the feelings of betrayal are amplified. When one’s family of origin becomes a source of pain for a child, the sense of helplessness can be intense.

You are not alone

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in three women and one in four men experience sexual violence over the course of their lifetimes.

References

Cowan, A., Ashai, A., & Gentile, J. P. (2020). Psychotherapy with Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Assault. Innovations in clinical neuroscience, 17(1-3), 22–26.

Levi, O., Bar‐Haim, Y., Kreiss, Y., & Fruchter, E. (2016). Cognitive–behavioural therapy and psychodynamic psychotherapy in the treatment of combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder: A comparative effectiveness study. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 23(4), 298–307.

Paintain, E., & Cassidy, S. (2018). First‐line therapy for post‐traumatic stress disorder: A systematic review of cognitive behavioural therapy and psychodynamic approaches. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 18(3), 237–250.