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Different Aspects of Healing from Sexual Assault - Chat Transcript

The Pandora's Aquarium chat room welcomed Rachel Grant July 20, 2012. Rachel holds a master's degree in counseling and works with survivors of trauma, and she spoke to members on different aspects of healing from sexual assault. You can visit Rachel's website at: http://rachelgrantcoaching.com/

Mod 1: Hello everyone you are all welcome to tonight's chat.  We are very glad to have Rachel Grant with us again today and she will try to answer some of the questions that have been sent to us. 


If you are ready we can start is that ok with you Rachel ?


 CoachRachelG: Let's do it!


1. What kind of questions should I ask a prospective T, to see if they are the right fit for me?


CoachRachelG: Well, the first thing to give some thought to is what kind of support you are most interested in getting at this point in your journey. You may want to have a safe space where you can talk about the abuse without too much intervention, you may be looking for an assessment and diagnosis, or you may be looking for a more structured, action-oriented approach.


So, one question to ask a therapist is what their therapeutic approach is. Or, in a more general way, how they approach their work as a therapist. Then spend some time reading about their approach.


For example, in my work, I take a fairly cognitive behavioral approach, which means I'm interested in how a person's thinking impacts how they see themselves and the world and many of my interventions are focused on "retraining the brain."


It's important that the therapist's approach matches up with what you are hoping to achieve in therapy. If you need space to reflect and feel safe, a therapist who specializes in talk therapies will be appropriate, whereas if you are looking for more goal oriented, a coach or therapist who uses cognitive behavior will be better.


You can also determine ahead of time whether it's important to that your therapist be a survivor or not and you can ask this.


You may ask if they've worked with survivors in the past as well.


Most importantly, spend some time reflecting on what matters the most to you. What are you hoping to gain from going to therapy? What kinds of people do you tend to trust and feel comfortable with? This will help guide your questions as you interview the therapist. And do think of it like an interview - the therapist should demonstrate competence, approachability, and awareness during an initial conversation.


Any questions or further thoughts?


 Chatter 1: So what if you have the whole "don't feel comfortable with anyone" thing going


CoachRachelG: Well, let's take a look at the thought, "I am not comfortable with anyone." This sort of thinking, which we all fall into, keeps us limited. So, try on a provisional thought like, "It seems to me that I sometimes have a hard time feeling comfortable with people. But, when I do feel comfortable with someone, I notice it is because _________"


It may only be one small thing that you can point to, but it is something you can look for in a therapist and then build on from there. Does that help?


2. Before I go to therapy, I really want to talk - but when I get there, I can't seem to think of anything to say. What suggestions would you have for helping me learn how to get the best out of my sessions?


CoachRachelG: Before each session with my clients, I ask them to complete a pre-session check-in to help them gather their thoughts


You can do something similar too!


Here are some sample questions:


  • What have I accomplished since our last session?
  • What results were produced from these shifts/accomplishments? Remember, nothing is insignificant.
  • What am I most proud of having done?
  • What didn’t I get done, but intended to?
  • What I would like to focus on in today's session is?


Spending some time beforehand to gather your thoughts this write - even typing up your answers and bringing them in with you - can help spur on the conversation.


So, there's a "technique" - but I'm also curious about the mental/emotional side ... what might be going on that leads to the "clamming up" so to speak.


What are your fears and/or concerns when it comes to talking to your T?


Chatter 2: the emotions that come with it


Chatter 3: fear of ridicule


Chatter 4: saying too much


3. I'm scared of talking about the details of my abuse with my T, although I really want to share them with somebody. I'm afraid it will be inappropriate or my therapist will think badly of me for saying the words of what happened. Is this something I should be able to feel safe talking about in therapy and something my therapist can help me with?


Chatter 5: I am afraid that I will repel my T by speaking and therefore even if I want to it is better not to


Mod 1: sorry that questions from me shouldn't have gone through


CoachRachelG: No worries - it's kind of related :)


Okay, so I want to encourage you to begin a conversation with your therapist about these very fears and concerns! "Hey T, I really want to tell you something, but I'm worried you'll ridicule me."


Or, "I'm afraid I'll say too much."


Hopefully, your T will help you explore that fear and you'll leave the conversation feeling more grounded and freer to share.



CoachRachelG: If you aren't encouraged by how the T works through this concern with you, remember, you can always leave. It can be hard for survivors to tune in to what they need and then go after it, but give yourself permission to do so. This is your journey and your recovery.


Chatter 6: for me there is a lot of shame and guilt trying to open up and say the words.


Chatter 7: They will think less of you because of our experience


CoachRachelG: I can certainly relate to much of what's being shared. These negative beliefs can be challenged though. As you move them out of the way, you will be able to talk about the abuse without the shame or fear.


Chatter 8: The only T I've had kind of pressured me to talk. If I mentioned I was afraid to talk about something, she'd try to talk me into it... does that happen a lot?


CoachRachelG: So, I want to encourage any one who is struggling to talk about the abuse to begin by bringing up your fears/concerns about talking about the abuse with your T.


I'm not sure I can speak to how often that occurs, but, in my opinion, the goal is not to convince you to talk, but to help you understand and process what's getting in the way of you talking and help clear that. So, I hope you are getting some support in that way.


Let's touch briefly on the second part of the question, if that's okay: Is this something I should be able to feel safe talking about in therapy and something my therapist can help me with?


I would say, yes, the hope is that you find a therapist/coach who creates the space you need to feel safe and secure.


As to the therapist being able to help, here's what I can share from my own journey. There was a time when I needed the therapist's office to process, reflect upon, and generally come to grips with the abuse. But, I eventually reached a place where just talking about the abuse was no longer helpful and I wanted to know what to do about the various behaviors, thoughts, attitudes I had identified.


: I found that I had to use different approaches to answer the "what do I do about it?" question and to begin transforming my thoughts and behaviors.


So, I want to encourage you to determine ahead of time, "What I want to get out of therapy is _____?" - and check in on a monthly basis if you are moving towards those goals.


4. How do I get the people in my life to understand that this still effects me even years later ?


CoachRachelG: Well, I'll share the bads news first: we can't force anyone to understand us.


However, we can increase the likelihood of that happening in a few ways. First, we have to give up taking it for granted that people should just "get it."


Abuse is a tricky thing to understand and process, particularly if the person hasn't been abused.


If we see someone with a broken leg, we immediately know what to do, right? Scream like crazy and call an ambulance!I


If, on the other hand, we're interacting with someone who was abused, the answers aren't quite so clear.


So, part of our responsibility in the matter is communicating as clearly as possible what it is we need - what can the person do to communicate understanding?


At the end of the day, people will say unsupportive things either out of ignorance, their own fears, or confusion, so our job is to not integrate that nonsense and to do our best to respond with clear requests.


Does that help? Any thoughts or questions?


Mod 1: Sometimes it can be difficult not to pay attention to unsupportive things but it does make sense


Chatter 9: Yes, thank you Rachel, that does make so much sense


CoachRachelG: Good! So, let's see if you can narrow in on a clear request -  if you want to, of course.


Chatter 9: OK.


Chatter 9: I really need for you to not ask me how I’m doing all the time, just me knowing you’re there is a support. Is that a clear request??


CoachRachelG: Close. Let's look at the language just a bit. Phrases like "all the time" land us back in black/white land and is sure to lead to a debate between you and the person as to whether this is actually happening or not.


So, try on, "I'd like to request that you refrain from asking me how I'm doing (you could leave it at that, or you could create some wiggle room - eg. more than twice a month)."


"It's a comfort to know you are there if I need to talk, and I will reach out to you if I feel inclined to do so."


So, now you've told them what you don't want - but how about you give them some direction as to what you do want. What could they do instead?


Chatter 9: When you say it, it sounds so much more authoriative. It’s amazing to see how language can change a request, thank you


CoachRachelG: Exactly! Good - try it on and if you get stuck or want to update me on how it goes - feel free to message me!


Mod 1: OK so we better move on to the next question.  Fairy I agree it makes a huge difference when you change the wording of things


5. How do I deal with all the anger and guilt that I have inside?


CoachRachelG: There are lots of layers to both of these topics. So, first, let me offer some resources. On guilt: http://rachelgrantcoaching.blogspot.com/2011/09/shame-vs-guilt.html


On anger: http://rachelgrantcoaching.blogspot.com/2011/11/anger-that-sucks-you-dry.html


I almost think we need a separate chat on each of these topics! But for now, let's do some very top level work on guilt.


The first thing I'll mention is that guilt occurs when we take responsibility for something we are the cause of.


When someone walks by and we stick out our foot to trip them, we are guilty. Guilt is an emotion that prompts us to make amends.


Therefore, if you feel guilty about the abuse, it is because you are believing that you are at fault, the cause of the abuse.


Guilt is a tricky beast. In its best form, it spurs us on to transform and change our behavior. In its worst, it can be used as way to avoid facing reality. One of the payoffs of feeling guilty – of taking responsibility for abuse or unpleasant things that happen – is that we don’t have to face the fact that we were powerless.


Rachel Grant chat: So, to begin dealing with guilet, we have to place the responsibility where it belongs - on the abuser. This is the first step - until that happens, as long as you continue to blame yourself, the guilt will not fade.


Thoughts? Questions?


Onetofortynine: ...This makes so much sense especially when the abuse happened as a child.


Mod 1: I agree, I hate to admit that fact that I was powerless when I was a kid


Chatter 9: Guilt is easier to live with than powerlessness


CoachRachelG: Try this on: :I was powerless to stop the abuse, but I am not powerless now in how I heal, how I live my life, how I choose to be, what I choose to believe about who I am.”


Just because we were powerless at one moment in our life doesn't mean we have to remain so.


fact, when we embrace that power that we have today to create our lives, we can more readily assign the blame to the abuser, let go of the past, and step into what is next for us.


6. I don’t remember a lot of what happened to me but I know something did happen. I keep trying to remember but I can't. How do I deal with knowing something was done but not knowing what or how far it went ?


CoachRachelG: I can only answer this from my perspective as a coach and my approach to working with survivors. Many of my clients have only vague to no memories (or only shadows) of what happened.


Knowing exactly what happened is not necessary in order to do recovery work.


What we do want to explore and discover is the impact of the abuse on your thoughts. We can discover these without returning to the exact moments of abuse. Identifying false beliefs is the work to be done. And we  can do this whether we can pinpoint the moment when one the belief was created or not.


CoachRachelG -> Rachel Grant chat: So, for example, I had the false belief that the abuse was my fault, and I new exactly the moment when I came to believe that. However, I also identified the false belief that "people always leave." I could never figure out the moment when I came to believe that - and that was okay. Rather, I, in the present, began noticing how this false belief was impacting my life and relationships and began doing the work to challenge and break this pattern of thought.


Does that help?


Mod 1: Yes it helps I think


7. What does the healing journey look like?


CoachRachelG: I think of recovery as consisting of three stages. The first is being a victim. At this stage, you either believe you are at the mercy of the abuse, have not identified yourself as a victim of abuse, have not shared or talked about the abuse with any one, or are actually still being victimized.


The second stage is that of being a survivor. During this phase, we reflect upon the experience, actively engage in facing and owning what happened, and recognize the connections between the abuse and the way we feel, think or behave. However, this recognition and sense of empowerment is not enough. While “survivor” is a much better label than “victim,” it does not go far enough in framing an identity that leads to a thriving and powerful life.


The final stage is what I call "beyond surviving". At this stage, you no longer feel it is necessary to manage behaviors or cope with thoughts and feelings that have resulted from abuse. Rather, you will gain insights and skills that make it possible for you to live an abundant, powerful life that is no longer mired in the past. You will see the scar, but are no longer wounded.


And, when old negative thoughts show up, you have the grounding and skills to know how to handle it so that two things happen: first, how often you end up mired in negative patterns of thought and behavior decreases, and second, how long you stay in those moments declines - so less frequently and shorter duration.


8. When do I know the journey is over?


CoachRachelG: Bad news: it never is, really. We can always learn more about ourselves, uncover a new layer.


Good news: But I consider living as a beyond survivor as close to completion as we can get - when more days than not we are just being who we were meant to be, we are mindful and powerful, we identify and intercept false beliefs when they come, and we feel unburdened.


9. What can you do when the pain seems too overwhelming?


CoachRachelG: Come chat at Pandys! Find one person you can ask for support from (use the clear request skill we practiced earlier), breathe, know you are not alone, and practice right speech.


But, I'll share a little trick I use from time to time to snap me and my clients out of it:


First, say outloud the thought or emotion ... "I'm never going to get better. I can't do this. I'm worthless. This is too overwhelming, I can't take it."


Then, say out loud what you had for breakfast, "Coffee and a banana."


Repeat, repeat, repeat until you are either laughing or calm.


This little technique helps distract the brain from the loop/cycle it is stuck in. Our goal, whenever a negative thought enters (that leads to feelings of overwhelm) is to intercept and interrupt. This quick technique does just that.


Mod 1: That's wonderful Rachel thank you for answering our questions and giving us some good advice.  Thanks to everyone for coming. 


Mod 2: Thanks so much Rachel!! :)


CoachRachelG: You're welcome! Always a pleasure.


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