Experiencing sexual assault can be extremely traumatic for the victim. The resulting trauma can in turn cause a host of serious difficulties in the person’s life. Therapy can be very effective in minimizing the effects of trauma.
Patients should receive therapy as soon as possible after the traumatic event; however, a person who experienced trauma in the past and did not receive treatment at the time will still benefit from treatment.
The Effects of Sexual Assault
It has become a cliché but it is true: sexual assault is not about sex but about power and control. Conversely, the victim of the assault will naturally feel a loss of control over the most personal and private realms of his or her existence. A person who has been sexually assaulted has been violated in a profound and fundamental way.
This loss of a sense of control over one’s own life and the feeling of having been victimized can manifest themselves in a variety of destructive ways. Victims of trauma often experience a range of side effects including depression, substance abuse, sleep disorders, recurrent nightmares, persistent re-experiencing of the event and a general phobia of others. They may develop difficulties socializing and may have interpersonal relationship issues. They may experience difficulty with work or career.
Therapy is the most effective means of dealing with trauma and avoiding as much as possible the attendant consequences to one’s life. Again, it is best to get the person into therapy as soon as possible after the event, but every trauma victim should receive therapy no matter how long it has been since the event.
Trauma treatment should take a holistic approach and address the traumatic event itself as well as all the manifest consequences such as depression and drug abuse. There are many different treatment approaches available, and some will be more effective than others for certain applications. For instance, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a recognized and time-tested psychoanalytical method that has proven very successful in dealing with negative emotions.
CBT has demonstrated effectiveness in dealing with a number of psychological issues including trauma and drug addiction. The patient should attend individual counseling and will probably be advised to attend group counseling sessions as well. The patient may also benefit from more “target specific” treatment approaches such as exposure therapy. In short, any and all issues related to the trauma should be addressed and dealt with in therapy.
Healing from Sexual Assault Trauma
It can be very tempting for victims of sexual trauma to retreat into themselves, shut themselves off from the world and escape into unhealthy and destructive behaviors such as drinking heavily and/or abusing drugs. Seeking this kind of emotional numbness after such a personal violation is quite understandable; however, it is not healthy or constructive. The person will simply cause more problems for himself and will fail to address the consequences of the sexual assault.
On the other hand, taking a proactive approach by seeking treatment immediately can allow the person to take control of the situation rather than letting it take control of her. In therapy she can address the consequences of the trauma as well as any related issues within herself. She is likely to emerge from therapy happier, stronger and more self-assured than ever before.