Recovery from Abuse

“She leads, you follow”. That was the advice I received from a mentor years ago when I was a young therapist, working with a woman who had been raped and come to me for therapy. I followed.

This is my overriding principle when I work with a survivor of abuse; whether it is physical, sexual or emotional.  If someone has been abused by another and they come in for assistance, you must let them be in charge, at all times, otherwise, in therapy, as she will be victimized again.  I worked with a woman for 6 months before she addressed the incest she had survived. She talked about it in the first session….and not again for 6 months!

A few exercises I use when working with a survivor:

  1. Write out the abuse, on paper. Why? Often, the survivor will think (and think and think) about the event(s) and because our thinking is so easily influenced, survivors, especially women, will minimize the events that happened, will tell themselves the events didn’t occur, didn’t occur that often or that intensely. Their emotions know the event occurred but their mind can tell them other things and this adds to their confusion. The assignment is tremendously emotional (reliving the assault(s)), so I only assign this if the person feels they are strong enough to do such.
  1. Envision what it would be like to successfully confront their attacker; what you would say. Note the working of the assignment; “successfully” confront the attacker. This builds self-esteem, gives the survivor hope, building a vision of how the ultimate step in this situation will unfold. This can be very cathartic.
  1. Confront the attacker in a role-play. In this exercise, the survivor prepares what she would say when confronting her attacker, identifies who could play the attacker (often myself) and then either during a session or over a series of sessions, she confronts her attacker.
  1. Actual confrontation of her attacker. Sometimes this is possible, often it is not for a variety of reasons. Again, deciding to do such is the survivors decision, after she and I have discuss and judged if it would be safe for her to do such.