The Benefits of Therapy for Survivors of Sexual Abuse

The benefits of therapy for survivors of sexual abuse

At least 463,634 individuals aged 12 and over fall victim to sexual abuse each year in the United States, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). If you account for victims under the age of 12, the amount of victims is even more staggering.

Many of those individuals who survive their abuse go on to face obstacles that affect their quality of life, including struggling with mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc., addictions to alcohol, food, drugs, and other vices, and other concerns. However, many sexual abuse victims are able to overcome many of the setbacks they face by receiving counseling and other therapeutic interventions. Thus, many could say that the benefits of therapy for survivors of sexual abuse are significant.

Let’s explore some options that may work for you or someone you know if you’re struggling after being sexually abused and need some support.

Mental Health Struggles Individuals Who Have Been Sexually Abused Face

Sexual abuse is a type of traumatic event, much like some would classify a serious auto accident, having a close call to losing one’s life in a natural disaster like a hurricane, etc. One similarity these types of incidents share is that they happen suddenly, giving victims little to no time to prepare for what’s going to occur. This disarming feeling where victims lack control can make individuals feel anxious, wondering what’s going to happen next.

Anxiety and mistrust often go hand-in-hand. This particularly describes situations like sexual abuse, where victims were taken advantage of by a fellow person. Whether their abuser was a family member, supervisor or colleague, physician, pastor, teacher, or someone else they had a close relationship with or should have been able to trust, it’s not uncommon for victims to find it challenging to trust the fact that others may have honest, genuine, or pure intentions in getting to know them. Instead, they may fear that that person has ulterior motives, like grooming them for a sexually exploitative reason.

Both general and social anxiety, in other words, the fear of what could happen and interacting with others, often leads sexual abuse victims to become increasingly withdrawn from society, meaning they spend less time with friends and family and doing the activities that they once enjoyed and more time alone. Depressed feelings begin to emerge, and a person’s solitude only causes that depression to grow.

To make matters worse, since individuals who’ve lived through events like these receive post-traumatic stress disorder diagnoses, they often find themselves crippled by intrusive or unwanted thoughts and flashbacks, leading to them always feeling on edge or having sleep disturbances.

The likelihood that a person who is experiencing some or all of the different emotions or behaviors above will develop a sense of worthlessness or self-loathing and begin dabbling into substance abuse or develop other addictions like ones to food, pornography, gambling, etc. or start engaging in damaging, compulsive behaviors like pulling their hair out, cutting, etc. to cope with what they’ve been through is high.

A 2022 journal study published by BioMed Central (BMC) Psychiatry outlines how, of those sexual abuse victims authors surveyed, at least 43% admitted to having suicidal ideation. Study authors also cited how 32% actually tried attempting suicide.

As you personally know, if you’ve been abused, the feelings or behaviors you experience ensuring sexual abuse like this doesn’t just go away if left unaddressed but instead continues to plague you, rearing its ugly head until you attempt to confront them head-on.

Therapeutic Interventions That Can Help Sexual Abuse Victims

One of the most powerful ways in which therapy can help sexual abuse victims is by aiding them in finishing processing the traumatic event they went through. See, when abuse like this occurs, it creates a lasting impression in victims’ minds and bodies that can have a ripple effect, including causing them to experience paralyzing fear, guilt and shame, anger, and low self-esteem. Some therapeutic interventions that can assist with the processing of these associated emotions include:

  • Trauma-informed cognitive behavioral therapy (TF_CBT): While talking through it, engaging in TF-CBT with a licensed counselor can assist you in working through the memories of what happened and replacing them with more healthy, productive thoughts for some individuals.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): This has proven to be a revolutionary therapeutic treatment for some, helping them more quickly process their abuse and, through bilateral stimulation, building new neural connections that minimize the impact those traumatic events have on them.
  • Neurofeedback: Our brains store emotions, both mental like fear and physical feelings like the sensation of being touched, in our amygdala. The hypothalamus, another part of our brains, is responsible for our stress response to different stimuli. While talk therapy, according to this study published by the National Institutes of Health, it can help trauma victims not only process what they went through, doing neurofeedback in combination with it can assist them in balancing out brainwaves, resulting in a more balanced response when thinking of a traumatic situation as opposed to an unwanted, emotion-filled one.

While there are certainly other treatment options used in addressing trauma, the ones above are the most commonly pursued therapeutic interventions that have shown the strongest promise of benefitting survivors of sexual abuse.

If you would like more information about the benefits of therapy for survivors of sexual abuse, reach out to a mental health counselor who specializes in this area. If you need help paying for your treatment, contact our law firm, Hendrickson & Long, PLLC. We have long been advocating for sexual abuse victims in West Virginia in their efforts to hold those responsible for harming them accountable for their actions and want to help you do the same.