Therapy is a pathway to healing for victims of trauma, like sexual violence. Victims are often advised to find a therapist who would work with them to create a better life and move on to finding meaning and creating fulfilling relationships. Most times, victims of trauma are encouraged to talk about their experience because talking, according to everyone, helps to bring relief, however it’s not so much the talking that helps victims; whether it’s to a therapist, a family member, or a friend, but the feeling of understanding and the bondedness that is built on trust between the victim and the listener that helps the victim the most.
The foundation of therapy is the relationship that is established with the therapist. According to research, the technique the therapist uses is not as important as the relationship that is built together. As therapy progresses and trust is established, the relationship that is cultivated between the victim and therapist is used as a work space, to resolve the trauma. Because the relationship with the therapist is so important to the process, it is crucial to have a connection and feel safe with the therapist. Therapy requires vulnerability because it is an open and self-revealing process, it is however equally frightening, but it is the vulnerability required that builds trust and sets the victim on the path to healing from trauma.
There is a part of the mind, beyond the conscious awareness, that knows if a therapist is helping or not. The process of creating a safe space in which therapy can take place is referred to as building a secure frame, and it is a very important aspect of therapy. The frame includes; the environment of the therapy – the physical surroundings, the emotional environment, the psycho-therapeutic structure, and the relationship between the victim and the therapist. A secure frame is an environment in which every detail reflects structure, containment, safety, and support. Psycho-dynamic therapists believe that the secure frame is a vital element of the therapy.
Privacy: the essential ingredient. The most important ingredient in the secure frame is privacy. The victim has a right to expect absolute privacy and confidentiality in the therapy. It is important to make sure that no outsider is listening in (either in fact or in unconscious perception), and that anything that is said is safely contained in the therapeutic space, with no leaks. This gives the assurance that it is safe to speak, because nothing said can ever get outside the room.
Non-judgmental acceptance: you deserve it. As a victim, you need to understand that you have the right to expect acceptance. As you begin to feel safe with and held by the therapist, you may begin to talk about some really painful things. You should be able to know that the therapist will not pass judgement on you or be repulsed by anything said by you, no matter how awful. You should feel that the therapist will not react negatively, even if you become enraged at her/him. S/he should respond to you therapeutically, allowing all your feelings, good and bad, to be released in a therapeutic frame which is strong enough and secure enough to hold them.
“An important addendum: if you are a survivor of sexual abuse, there is a strong possibility that your unconscious mind will deliberately lead you to choose an abusive therapist, one who does not respect the therapeutic frame (or choose somebody to talk to who would make you suffer even more). Hopefully, this article, will at the very least, lead you to have some awareness of it, if that is happening to you.”
Choosing a therapist to call. How do you choose a therapist to call?
- Start by getting a professional referral. IF SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS SEEING OR HAS SEEN THIS THERAPIST, FIND ANOTHER THERAPIST. The best referrals are professional referrals, from a professional who knows the therapist professionally, and who is not involved with you or the therapist socially. It should be unlikely that you will ever see your therapist outside therapy. Therapy works best when your relationship is confined to the therapeutic frame.
- Take into consideration the therapist’s qualifications. Your therapist must have some kind of professional credentials. To be a competent psychotherapist, one needs ALL THREE of the following: intensive academic study in a mental health field, supervised clinical experience, certification or registration or licensure.
- Evaluate that therapist yourself, using encoded messages from your unconscious mind.
The therapist’s manner should be professional and to the point. Unacceptable practices to watch out for:
- the therapist answers the phone while in session with another client, and worse, proceeds to discuss an appointment with you;
- the appointment is made for you by a friend or relative or other person, and even worse, the other person goes to the first session with you;
- the therapist asks you to make the appointment with her/his secretary;
- the therapist offers to send you something in the mail.
All of these situations contaminate the frame by admitting other individuals to it and compromising your privacy.
It’s important for a therapist to provide hope but not absolute unconditional guarantees. If there’s the will to change and put in the necessary time and energy, healing is possible for all victims of trauma. Healing can happen quickly in psychotherapy, but only after getting safely through the layers of protective gate keepers, which understandably can take a long time. So, although everyone is capable of healing , changes can take years to happen for some people; unfortunately, because time is limited, some may never achieve the level of healing they desire in this lifetime. In addition, people are not always at a time and place in their growth where they are ready to heal, and a given therapist may not be the right person to help them. Overall, there are numerous factors at play in the therapy process that may contribute to or interfere with healing; we are conscious of some of these factors and unaware of others. And so, there are no guarantees without conditions. Please seek help from professionals alone; it is also beneficial to commit to engaging in practices that reconnect you to your spiritual and personal ethics, beliefs and values. This could be through prayer, or connecting in fellowship with people who share similar hopes and values; and engaging in community activism around issues of significance.
Adapted from Metanoia: https://www.metanoia.org/choose/gethelp01.htm