Sexual Abuse Recovery: How Christian Counseling Can Help
Dr. Maria D. Reyes
According to statistics, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys experience child sexual abuse, or CSA. This heartbreaking statistic doesn’t come close to describing the vast pain and suffering caused by CSA, or the pervasiveness of the problem when you consider the percentage of the population who have been victimized in this way.1 out of every 6 American women reports being raped or sexually assaulted, along with 1 out of every 33 men. If you widen the spectrum to include harassment, the statistics are even more staggering: one online survey by the nonprofit Stop Street Harassment found that 81% of women and 43% of men had been sexually harassed at some point in their lifetime.
Whether you’ve experienced trauma as a child, as an adult, or both, going to therapy can make a world of difference, but your treatment plan must happen at your own pace and in a safe environment where you feel comfortable and respected.
Christian therapists trained in trauma recovery can offer you a place where you can be heard and heal from your pain. There is never a way to erase the harm that’s been done to you, but at Seattle Christian Counseling, we have seen many patients recover from their trauma, integrate their healing into their lives and faith, and go on to live fulfilling lives. We want the same for you.
The counselors at Seattle Christian Counseling offer a faith-based, individualized, proven therapeutic approach to your recovery process as you sort through the pain of sexual trauma.
Signs and Symptoms of Sexual Abuse
In most cases, if you are an adult, you will be able to identify when you are sexually abused or assaulted. Unfortunately, children may be unable to understand and explain what is happening to them.
Incest is the most common form of childhood sexual abuse, and non-contact abuse also takes place, whether it’s exposing a child to pornography, voyeurism, exposing genitalia, or sexual activity taking place in front of children.
According to RAINN, here are some signs of sexual abuse that parents, guardians, and anyone who works with children should know:
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Signs of trauma to the genital area
- Sexual talk and behavior
- Fear of a certain person, especially if newly developed
- Regressive behaviors, such as thumb sucking or bedwetting
- Fear of removing clothing to change or bathe
- Change in eating or sleeping habits
- Change in mood, especially an increase in aggression
- Increased anxiety and fear
- Increased physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches
- Nightmares or fear of being alone at night
- Self-harming behaviors
According to RAINN:
“The most important thing to keep in mind when looking for signs of child sexual abuse is to keep an eye on sudden changes in behavior. Trust your gut and don’t ignore your feelings if something seems off. If a child tells you that someone makes them uncomfortable, even if they can’t tell you anything specific, listen.”
Although child sex trafficking is a tragic reality, it’s also true that a child is much more likely to be abused by a person in a position of trust in their life. Keep an eye out for an adult who does not respect boundaries, seems unusually interested in befriending a child, makes sexualized comments, gives gifts for no reason, and has overly personal conversations with a child.
If you suspect that someone is grooming a child in your life, or you as an adult have an uncomfortable feeling around someone but can’t articulate why, please trust your instincts. You can call 800-656-HOPE or 1-800-4-A-Child to speak to a trained crisis counselor.
How Does Therapy Help Sexual Abuse Recovery?
When you have been scarred by an experience so immensely personal and traumatic as sexual abuse, even considering therapy can be fraught with emotions—or, conversely, numbness, and compartmentalizing.
In the end, though, your present and future mental health are best served by moving towards healing at a pace that is right for you, even if it feels slow. Each little step makes a difference in your path towards a brighter future.
Depending on the circumstances surrounding your trauma, you may have other issues to unpack, including, but not limited to:
- Mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD (all of which you are at much higher risk for after experiencing sexual abuse),
- Dysfunction in your family of origin,
- Your experience with other types of abuse, such as physical, mental, emotional, etc.
- Relationship issues,
- Communication styles,
- And more.
Child sexual abuse is linked to adverse outcomes in adulthood. According to experts Melissa Hall and Joshua Hall at Counseling.org:
“Childhood sexual abuse has been correlated with higher levels of depression, guilt, shame, self-blame, eating disorders, somatic concerns, anxiety, dissociative patterns, repression, denial, sexual problems, and relationship problems.”
And whether you have sustained sexual trauma in childhood, or adulthood, sexual abuse is linked to depression, anxiety, PTSD, personality disruptions (e.g. developing borderline personality disorder), attachment issues, and addiction (Good Therapy). Physically, sexual abuse can cause injuries, chronic pain, sexual dysfunction, fertility issues, sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy.
If you have experienced any of these problems, please know that this is normal. Internalizing the blame for the abuse is also normal, but completely misplaced. Blame for sexual abuse falls 100% on the abuser. Abusers often use grooming and/or coercion to manipulate their targets. This can leave an abuse survivor feeling confused and blaming themselves, but abuse is never your fault.
Therapy for sexual abuse can help you externalize the responsibility for what happened to you. Various types of therapy can be effective for recovery. You should know that Christian counseling for sexual abuse will always happen at your pace and comfort level.
You set the tone for your treatment goals, and you are in control of your sessions. Your counselor is there to provide a safe and compassionate space for you to heal, as well as professional guidance to take the next steps towards recovery whenever you are ready.
Types of Therapy for Sexual Abuse Recovery
Common types of therapy for sexual abuse include:
Depth therapy: becoming self-aware of your unconscious emotions.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EDMR): rewiring the brain using subtle eye movements.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): identifying and changing dysfunctional thought patterns.
Play therapy for children: helping children express their emotions and process memories in a developmentally appropriate manner.
God’s Love for the Survivor
Rachael Denhollander, an abuse survivor who wrote the memoir What Is a Girl Worth?, says, “There was a point in my faith where I had to simply cling to the fact that although I didn’t understand or have the answers, I knew that God was good and that he was love. Whatever else I didn’t understand couldn’t be a contradiction to that.”
It is normal for Christian survivors of abuse to question their faith, or even abandon it altogether. Your counselor understands that questions of faith in the aftermath of abuse are often difficult to answer. You do not have to be afraid to express your emotions or ask tough questions. There is no judgment. Your counselor wants to extend the love and grace of Christ to you through the ups and downs of your sexual abuse recovery process.
Unfortunately, many survivors have found that they are not safe disclosing their abuse in a church setting, whether that is because they are not believed, they experience a minimizing of their experience, or they are coerced into “forgiving” the abuser publicly.
Rest assured that the counselors at Seattle Christian Counseling are trained professionals who honor all rules and laws of confidentiality and are trained in integrative therapy methods. The Bible informs our worldview, and we can use secular resources that have proven effective in sexual abuse recovery.
For Christians, sexual abuse recovery drives to the very core of our faith by asking the question, “How could God allow this evil?” There are no easy answers to that question, and we won’t pretend that there are. But what we do want to do is simply show you the love of God throughout the course of your treatment with us. Each survivor’s journey is different, and our goal is to meet you where you are.
If you want to get started with counseling today, please give us a call or contact us online to schedule a risk-free initial session.
DISCLAIMER: THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE
The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this article are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please contact one of our counselors for further information.