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Sexual abuse is a topic no one really wants to talk about. It’s a subject that’s still taboo in many circles and in lots of families. It’s a tragedy for which victims often blame themselves and it creates a dark hole that’s difficult to climb out of.

That’s why therapy is an important step in the healing process. Talking about sexual abuse and learning about ways to get past it – though that can take years and years – are essential to moving forward with life rather than dwelling in the past. Therapy allows victims to express themselves in whatever way is best for them and gives them access to a variety of types of treatment.

Defining sexual abuse

No two sexual abuse cases are the same and sexual abuse constitutes many different things. Simply defined, however, sexual abuse is best described as violent and cruel treatment of a person in a sexual manner that usually occurs repeatedly. In general, the perpetrator usually holds a position of power (either real or perceived) over the victim. This person takes advantage of his/her power to inflict harm upon the victim in a variety of sexual ways.

Sexual abuse can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, race, or sexual orientation. The age of the individual at the time of abuse will determine the type of therapies suggested for healing.

The damaging effects of sexual abuse

Most individuals who are sexually abused experience psychological, emotional, AND physical effects due to the trauma associated with their abuse. Though everyone is affected differently, sexual abuse – in general – is difficult to deal with and can have lifelong consequences for the victim.

When a child is sexually abused, they will often experience developmental problems and can have difficulty in school. In fact, teachers and school counselors are often the first ones to detect signs of abuse in children they see daily. Socialization, impulse control, and focus are affected and these children often become loaners or are further ostracized by classmates or peers.

Individuals who are abused as adults can experience a variety of issues as a result of the abuse. Common mental health problems associated with sexual abuse include severe anxiety, depression, anger issues, disassociation, trust issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, self-destructive behaviors, and self-harm or suicidal tendencies.

Recommended therapies for sexual abuse survivors

Just as sexual abuse differs from one victim to another, so does the treatment for abuse. What’s good for one patient might not be suitable for another. It often takes several sessions with a therapist to determine the best course of action for the individual in question.

  • Psychotherapy – Often, the initial and best course of action for a victim of sexual abuse is to locate a therapist with whom they can simply talk. Talk therapy might be slow going at first, but when the abused individual finds a therapist they can trust and to whom they can relate, this kind of therapy can do wonders to move the victim forward. As trust continues to develop, the victim tends to open up more and more, allowing the therapist to assess the situation and recommend other courses of treatment if deemed necessary. Working with a therapist also helps the victim recognize that the abuse was not their fault and can assist them in recognizing patterns of abuse so as to avoid it happening again in the future.
  • Medications – Medication doesn’t make sexual abuse go away but it can be very helpful in treating the harmful effects of abuse. Patients, for example, might benefit from meds to treat anxiety or depression. The trick, however, is to combine these with continuing psychotherapy for the best results and also so that the therapist can monitor the effectiveness and side effects of the medication.
  • Group therapy – Being able to speak with others who are/were sexual abuse victims can often be helpful. Hearing the stories of other survivors can often be uplifting and group therapy is a way for victims to find support in a safe setting with strangers who don’t judge them or their experiences. Again, this should be in addition to one-on-one therapy, at least for a while.

Locating a sexual abuse therapist

You wouldn’t go to an orthopedist for your heart problems, so you shouldn’t see just any therapist for help with conquering the challenges of being a sexual abuse victim. Look for a psychotherapist who has experience treating victims of sexual misconduct or crimes. This person is a “specialist” of sorts and can best assist you in moving from victim to survivor.

At the offices of Dr. Ellie Bolgar, our therapists have worked with both adult and child victims of sexual abuse and are skilled in a variety of treatments to help individuals who have been scarred by this abuse. If you’re ready to talk, we’re ready to listen. Call us at 604-371-0198 to schedule an appointment.