If you were sexually assaulted either as a child or in adulthood and did not get the help you needed, chances are you are still suffering. Symptoms often surface months to even years after an assault. And sometimes, because it is so long afterward, you don’t make the connection between the two. This leads many people to my Toronto therapy office feeling like they’re “going crazy.”
I have been helping sexual assault survivors heal for over 20 years. Here’s how I would help you:
· First, I would listen closely to help you identify your symptoms. Generally, there are 3 main categories of symptoms (see Trauma and Recovery by Judith Lewis Herman, 1992):
1. hyper-arousal, which means feeling unsafe, being on the lookout for danger
at all times, and being easily startled;
2. numbness, in other words feeling nothing—you are disconnected from
3. sensory intrusions, which can include flashbacks, disturbing physical sensations, seeing or hearing things, nightmares, inexplicable illnesses, rashes, infections, etc.
· Another common symptom that often goes unrecognized is repetition of the trauma. In other words, you find yourself in relationships where the dynamic is similar to that of the relationship you were assaulted in. Or you may be caught up in patterns of high-risk behaviour, for example, having sex with people you’ve just met, or going out alone at night to unsafe areas.
· On the flip side, those who have a history of sexual assault may also live a very narrow existence. Because you don’t feel safe, you tend to keep to yourself. Many use unhealthy strategies to cope, like excessive tv watching, drug abuse, alcohol, self-injury, disordered eating, etc. Some become accident-prone. Others may shoplift. All of these strategies can create enough of a distraction to provide temporary relief from posttraumatic symptoms. But they often end up creating new problems all their own.
· Together, we would start to make sense of your symptoms and how you have been dealing with them. Immediately, you would feel more in control and less “crazy.” I would then help you to devise new effective coping strategies. These would consist of basic tools for leading a healthy life.
· Next, we would look at your life circumstances. Do you have a reliable source of income? Is your living situation safe and comfortable? Do you have a family doctor? Are there people in your life you can count on? Healing work can be challenging. So it is important to have the best possible life context in which to do it.
· Finally, we will process the traumatic material. I have extensive training in therapeutic approaches (such as EMDR, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, and guided imagery) that are specifically designed to heal trauma. I will make sure you go at a pace you can manage. And together, we will conquer your demons once and for all.