This page has been printed from the Yarrow Place website http://www.yarrowplace.sa.gov.au
Recovering from Rape and Sexual Assault
Survivors speak of many ways of healing from rape and sexual assault. Some people may see a doctor, a counsellor, psychologist, psychiatrist or other health practitioner. Others get support from family or friends. Survivors may also find that their pet was important in their healing and some work through the impacts for themselves. Self help books can also be important tools for recovery.
Regardless of how survivors work on their healing, helpful responses from other people are instrumental for recovery. Victims/survivors of rape and sexual assault may find some of the following responses helpful:
- believe them;
- assist them to feel safe;
- let them know they are not to blame;
- accept their experience and the feelings they have;
- inform them that their feelings and reactions are normal;
- don’t judge them or ask “why” questions;
- assist them to feel safe;
- acknowledge that rape or sexual assault can be a life threatening experience;
- assist them to regain control over their life by providing information and letting them make their own decisions, whenever possible; and
- let them know it is okay to seek help and support.
Crisis Responses at Yarrow Place
People 16 years and older who have been sexually assaulted within the last week can receive a crisis response service from Yarrow Place. Crisis response services are available 24 hours, seven days a week and can include counselling and medical services. Victims/survivors who have been sexually assaulted within the last 72 hours will usually be seen within a few hours of service contact. Those sexually assaulted between the last 72 hours and one week will receive an appointment for the next daytime service. During the day crisis response services are provided by the duty worker and a Yarrow Place doctor. After hours staff is on call and clients will be seen by a Yarrow Place crisis response worker and a doctor. Some Yarrow Place doctors are male and clients have the right to request a female doctor.
From a counselling perspective, providing a crisis intervention service is different to therapeutic work with clients. A crisis is a brief, non-illness response to severe stress. Most crises are part of the normal range of life experiences that most people can expect and can recover from without professional intervention. Sexual assault can be understood as a complex crisis. This means an event that is not part of our everyday experience or shared accumulated knowledge, and therefore often harder to cope with.
When people have just been through a traumatic and de-powering experience such as sexual assault, timely and appropriate support that restores their power is required.
Crisis Intervention is:
- clearly distinct to other forms of counselling
- time limited – working to contain rather than to extend and to explore
- focused on current issues
- focused on safety – in relation to perpetrator and in relation to client risk of harm to self or others
- worker role is more active, sometimes even directive.
Worker tasks are clearly defined as:
- believe, don’t blame
- re-connect client with sense of hope and confidence
- provide space for expression of emotions, normalise and validate these
- restore client ability to problem solve/cope again
- use expertise to provide client with facts to enable choices
- assist the client so see things clearer
- break up problems into smaller, more manageable parts or assists looking at it from a different perspective
- engage other services or people from personal network of clients for support
- work out who is doing what
- ensure client is clear of outcome and who will carry out which task(s).
Ongoing counselling at Yarrow Place
Victims/survivors of sexual assault can access Yarrow Place counselling services any time after rape or sexual assault. Some people contact immediately, others may not seek Yarrow Place support until many years after the sexual assault.
What is counselling?
Counselling is one of the ways that people can get support for themselves following a rape or sexual assault. In most services counselling is provided by workers who have been trained and have experience in helping and supporting people. Some people decide they want to talk to someone straight away, others leave it for months or even years after a rape or sexual assault. Other people don’t want to talk about it at all.
When can counselling help?
Counselling can be helpful when:
- Victims/survivors feel confused and the more they think about things, the more confused they get;
- an issue is seriously impacting on their day to day life;
- people feel alone and as if nobody understands them;
- most days, life seems really hard and they can’t cope any more; and
- people have strong feelings like anger, self blame or depression and nothing seems to help.
The role of the counsellor is to:
The main aims of counselling are to help victims/survivors to:
- provide a safe place away from other demands in life to think about issues in their life;
- enable victims/survivors to explore their thoughts and feelings at their own pace;
- focus on their needs;
- assist in exploring options/solutions regarding difficulties they may be experiencing; and
- assist to monitor how things are going.
- feel more in control of their life;
- find solutions they haven’t tried yet; and
- become clearer about their strengths and supports and how to use them to their best advantage.
Is counselling important after a rape or sexual assault?
Help and support can be really important after a rape or sexual assault. Whether or not victims/survivors want counselling may depend on:
- how they are feeling;
- how things are going for them;
- what they need to know in relation to what happened;
- whether there is a trusted person who will listen, understand and support them; and
- whether they feel “stuck” on a certain issue or on a thought that’s always there.
What may be the consequences of seeking counselling?
- Seeking professional counselling and support from others at the time of the trauma enables the person to deal with the immediate impact
- Rape and sexual assault is a traumatic experience and people may need support to move on.
Do people who have been raped or sexually assaulted need to talk about details of the rape or sexual assault in counselling?
That depends on what works for them. Some people find it helpful to talk about what happened, others don’t. If they don’t want to talk about the details, that’s okay. What’s important to talk about is how the rape or sexual assault is affecting them and what they would like to do to manage those impacts.
Is there a cost for counselling at Yarrow Place?
Yarrow Place services are free.
What counselling framework is used by Yarrow Place counsellors?
The broad framework for counselling at Yarrow Place is provided in Judith Herman’s book “Trauma and Recovery”. According to Herman recovery from trauma develops in 3 stages: 1)Safety, 2)Remembrance and Mourning and 3)Reconnection. These stages provide more of a conceptual understanding of the main themes in healing, an attempt to bring understanding into the complexity of trauma responses and subsequent healing. Healing does not naturally progress from stage to stage. Even though one stage may be more prominent at certain times, there will always be aspects of the other stages present.
Herman emphasises the importance of the client-counsellor relationship. She understands the core experiences of psychological trauma as disempowerment and disconnection from others. Recovery requires the empowerment of the survivor and the creation of new connections and this is only possible within the context of relationships (2001, p.133). For Herman, a crucial tenet of this relationship is the ideological orientation of the counsellor in relation to the crime committed against the client. She states:
“working with victimized people requires a committed moral stance. The therapist
is called to bear witness to a crime. She
must affirm a position of solidarity with
the victim. This does not mean a
simplistic notion that the victim can do no
wrong; rather, it involves an understanding
of the fundamental injustice of the traumatic experience and the need for resolution that
restores some sense of justice.”
Stage 1 – Safety
The physical and psychological safety of survivors needs to be established before any further therapeutic work is undertaken. Restoring safety also means restoring a sense of power and control. Establishing safety can include:
- Creating a safe physical environment
- Building social supports
- Getting in touch with positive coping strategies
- Establishing or returning to a daily routine
- Minimising destructive coping strategies
Stage 2 – Remembrance and Mourning
By retelling the trauma the survivor can transform the traumatic memory and integrate it into their life story. The challenge for client and therapist is to find a space between avoiding to think and talk about the event and recalling it in a way that is re-traumatising for the person. To create this space, the client is encouraged to speak about their life before the trauma in an effort to create a context and connection with subsequent events. Retelling the trauma can evoke intense grief as life changes and losses are realised. Over time the survivor is supported to work through the traumatic experience, making sense of their memories, emotions, understandings and meanings of the event. Eventually the survivor will be able to speak about the event without arousing such intense reactions and the experience will take its place alongside other life experiences of the person.
Stage 3 – Reconnection
The survivor is supported in reconciling with themselves and reconnecting with others. With a sense of integration and acceptance of the traumatic event clients can re-focus on themselves. They work towards the person they want to be now and the life they want to have now. They are supported to build their self esteem and their trust in themselves, to believe in their own agency and to acknowledge their strengths.
From this inner strength reconnecting with others becomes possible. The counsellor assists clients in their ability to set and keep boundaries, in assessing trustworthiness, in establishing and maintaining relationships. New possibilities may open to the survivor, such as a new career, different leisure activities or an interest in social action. Herman suggests that there is never a complete resolution but clients will take pleasure in their life, their relationships and they will live in the present and the future rather than in the past.
Yarrow Place counsellors are eclectic in their approach. This means that they may draw on a variety of therapeutic approaches and techniques in their counselling. Some of these including Feminist ideas, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Narrative ideas, Ego therapy, Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR). Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), Creative Visualisation and Art and Drawing therapy.
Group work at Yarrow Place
Yarrow Place offers a range of group programs and seminars. One of the groups, regularly offered to women survivors of sexual violence, is an 8 week ‘Discovering Your Strengths’ course. ‘Discovering Your Strengths’ is a group which aims to provide women who have experienced sexual violence with the opportunity to meet with others in a supportive environment. The group is not only about sharing the effects of sexual violence but has a strong focus on working towards empowering women to take control of their lives and move on.
Refer to books in section “Reference” and “Further readings” sections