By Kim Kubal
Here are a few of the healing tools from Part 4 of my book, Your Strength to Heal , which discusses various therapies and healing tools:
When searching for a therapist, it is wise to interview that therapist before making a commitment to therapy. One can ask questions such as:
- Are you taking new clients?
- How much do you charge and do you take sliding scale?
- Are you an LMFT, LCSW or PhD?
- How many years have you worked as a therapist?
- Do you consult with other therapists over cases?
- Have you worked on your own issues and for how long?
- What are your spiritual beliefs and how do you view a Higher Power?
- Are you familiar with 12 Step Recovery programs?
- How many years have you had working with trauma survivors?
- What types of therapy do you use with clients?
- What other forms of self-help do you suggest for survivors?
- What lengths are you willing to go to for your patients?
- How do you deal with a survivor's suicidal feelings or behavior?
- Do you take emergency phone calls?
- Do you have a back-up therapist?
It is important to ask each therapist the same questions. A survivor needs to feel safe and comfortable with this person and one can also have an initial session to check out how the therapist and client interact—a “try-out” period.
Secondly, a survivor needs to list the characteristics they must have in a therapist (e.g. , good listener, supportive, non-judgmental, unconditionally loving), and remember that therapists are just people, they have strengths and weaknesses and a “perfect therapist” does not exist. A survivor must also realize she/he has options in choosing a therapist and they are in charge and not powerless.
Thirdly, a therapist who has experience dealing with trauma, PTSD, dissociation and twelve step recovery programs or is open and willing to learn about these conditions will help a survivor feel they are in good hands and that they can put their trust in that therapist and work through the healing of ritual abuse.
After interviewing various therapists, either by phone or in person, it is then important to trust a survivor's own intuition, and allow the inner child and parts to have a say. Getting feedback from a friend who is objective, can offer advice and has no agenda can help in the final decision-making process.
Women's centers and rape crisis centers are good avenues for survivors to find therapists, or for referrals to therapists, as these centers are often more connected with sexual abuse recovery or trauma. In choosing a good therapist, one can also ask survivor friends for referrals.
It is vitally important that a therapist should have good boundaries, never act inappropriately nor have sex with a client, or ask one on a date. It is very important that the therapist not blame a client for what happened. A therapist should never use physical force, threaten with physical force or use shame, humiliation or scare tactics toward a client.
“If you decide to report a therapist's unethical and illegal behavior, there are four different ways to do so. Each option has both strong and weak points. You may choose any one or all of these options:
- Administrative Action – file a complaint with the therapist's licensing board.
- Professional Association Action – file a complaint with the professional association's ethics committee.
- Civil Action – file a civil complaint.
- Criminal Action – file a complaint with local law enforcement.”
(Booklet titled Professional Therapy Never Includes Sex by the State of California Department of Consumer Affairs).
Supportive Groups Led by Therapists
Learning to share in a supportive and non-threatening way in a group conducted by an experienced therapist who has worked with trauma, enables the survivor to learn trust, unconditional love, validation, and to know they are not alone.
“Sometimes it helps to just know that someone is listening, that you never have to be alone”
Lifeline , Australia
For trauma survivors in particular, the following guidelines may help when contacting a hotline:
- Please remember this is a support line, not therapy.
- Please be clear and honest with your feelings and don't assume the volunteer can mind-read e.g. I'm feeling all alone, nobody sees me or hears me. I just need to be heard.
- Please assume goodwill, that the volunteer is sincerely trying to help. If feeling angry or frustrated, please say so, but don't vent your anger and frustration on the volunteer.
- Be realistic about what to expect from the volunteer – they are not going to rescue or try to save you, nor is it their job to do so.
- For RA survivors in particular, you can ask if the volunteer understands RA, if not, would it be possible to speak to someone who does? If that is not possible, ask the volunteer could they listen to your feelings.
- When talking about suicidal feelings, please be really clear where you are in your process, if it's feelings, please let the volunteer know all you need is to be heard.
- If you are seriously suicidal, please say so and you will get a different kind of help from the volunteer.
Taking Care of Oneself
Taking care of oneself means exercising, eating healthy foods, eliminating addictions, getting a good night's sleep, staying present in one's body and letting go of abuse and abusive people. This also includes learning to set healthy boundaries, saying no when needed, and not feeling responsible for another person's feelings or actions. This is a process that begins with self-love.
Substituting Self-Harm with Self-Care
For survivors in particular, self-injury can be a coping mechanism, a way to relieve stress and anxiety and a way of communicating when words are not available. The first step in eradicating self-harm is acknowledging the denial, becoming conscious of the self-harm and then removing the triggers.
The next step is to substitute self-harm with self-care. Once a survivor understands how and when this behavior occurs, it can then be talked about, drawn, sung or journal led, and then the pressure to act physically may well diminish.
Writing to vent anger can release repressed feelings and can also help a person to better understand what they are feeling at that given moment. Writing letters to the abusers, but not always sending them can help the survivor get in touch with the rage and why this happened to them. Another way of releasing anger is writing all the incidents of the abuse that happened, dealing with those feelings, and then with witnesses, burn the writings outdoors.
Reparenting and Learning to Love One's Inner Child/Parts
Since survivors were never shown love growing up in an abusive home, it is important to establish a loving healthy relationship with one's inner child/parts. Survivors treat themselves how they were treated in their family of origin. They have no idea what unconditional family love is and nothing to compare it to.
Viewing good parenting tapes such as John Bradshaw's family tapes can help with this, as well as reading good children's literature such as the Ramona series. This gives a better perspective of a normal family upbringing.
A survivor can learn to have fun in the playground, in the sand pit or on the swings which helps the little child/parts know they're cared for and loved. Listening and supporting them establishes trust and lets them know they are not alone anymore and are loved.
Grief work is allowing the tears and grief to surface from the years of abuse, lack of love and a life never lived. The survivor can do this work by themselves or choose a therapist or caregiver with whom they feel safe and vulnerable to allow the grief to surface. It can be helpful to visualize a Higher Power comforting and loving the person while grieving. Releasing the grief allows the survivor to heal on a physical, emotional, spiritual, psychic level and frees up one's energy. Over a period of time, the survivor can then open up to love, being loved and loving others.
Learning to Trust Oneself:
Because survivors are taught from an early age not to trust themselves or others, learning to be present, listen to their bodies and trust themselves are crucial tools for healing. It then follows that by trusting oneself and one’s judgment, the survivor can learn to trust others.
Since the body stores repressed trauma memories which can materialize as various forms of illness, bodywork such as Rosenwork can bring these memories to the surface and be released. This work should be done with an experienced therapist who is familiar with trauma, PTSD and dissociation, and who is also able to process the memories with the survivor in a safe and loving way.
At times this can be helpful if it moves a person through their feelings. Venting the anger with a bat, tennis racket or pillows by oneself or with the help of a therapist releases the rage and frees up one's energy, so that the rage does not turn inward or outward. By doing this work i.e. by holding the bat over the head, inhaling and then screaming, grunting or whatever words come forth, the person can ultimately feel strong and powerful without anyone being hurt.
Letting go of Addictions
Addiction to alcohol and/or drugs is now recognized as a frequent outcome of a traumatic experience or experiences. Sexual trauma is an important activator of addiction to alcohol and/or drugs.
Fortuitously, AA offers a unique environment for healing from both addictive disease and trauma. AA’s Twelve Step program recognizes that recovery is behavioral (physical, mental, and emotional) as well as spiritual. The same recovery principles apply to trauma. People in Twelve Step recovery learn they are no longer victims, that they have choices and the capacity for mature responsibility. They discover the relief of being able to share their experiences and thus draw strength and hope from others. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later, they find a healthy spiritual path that will sustain and strengthen them. It is especially important that a deeply-embedded experience of an evil, punishing, all-powerful God be replaced in time with a personal Higher Power of love, justice, and compassion.
Recovery Books and Survivor stories
Reading recovery books and survivor stories helps a survivor feel less alone, and hopeful that a productive, meaningful life is indeed possible. Survivor stories can also give inspiration and provide useful healing tools.
Using visualization to vent feelings such as rage or anger can be therapeutic, because it is non-violent, non-threatening and safe. In one's mind, the survivor can vent the rage and anger towards the abusers, which can then help the survivor take back their power and control.
Visualizing oneself on a daily basis as healthy, happy, content and free of abuse can give hope to the survivor and, more importantly, let them know that life will get better.
By using positive affirmations in place of the negative messages received as a child, e.g., “you are a loving, kind and wonderful person” can dispel the negative messages a survivor is given and eventually reprogram one's attitude about oneself and the world.
It is helpful to learn to recognize triggers and separate the current situation from the past abuse, and not transfer the feelings onto the situation or person. Speaking to one’s inner child/parts about the forthcoming event and reassuring them they are not alone, that this is not an abusive situation and telling them they are loved, will certainly help prepare them for the situation in advance.
Staying in the Here and Now
For most survivors, learning to stay present in one’s body and in the present time is extremely difficult because the present for a survivor was so overwhelming and horrific one needed to escape. Part of a survivor’s healing is retraining and reparenting oneself to being present in the here and now. This in turn helps a survivor set healthy boundaries and learn to say no to abuse.
Learning to be present in one's body and in nature can be healing and nurturing whether it is seeing a beautiful lake, watching a sunset, hiking, swimming or feeding the birds. One can come away from a beautiful scene with gratitude that one is not alone and has survived such horrendous abuse.
Music can be very soothing and healing while working through the memories or grief, e.g., “Shaina Noll Songs for the Inner Child.” In addition, holding stuffed animals while listening to music can reassure the inner child/parts they are not alone and are loved.
Healing Tools for Co-Occurring Disorders
- Find information and support about co-occurring disorders and how it impacts one’s recovery process.
- Build a satisfying and meaningful life without drugs or alcohol. This requires time, support and courage.
- Find a therapist who is skilled in mental health, substance abuse treatment and trauma, and a therapist who has done her own inner work.
- Recognize that trauma plays an important role in addictions, PTSD and mental illness. With the help of a supportive therapist, start working on childhood trauma issues.
- Access additional support from 12 step recovery programs, peers and/or a healthy family.
- Find meaningful activities, aside from one’s job responsibilities. Learn to enjoy life!
- Finally, understand that you are responsible for your own recovery – no one else can do it for you.
If a survivor is able, volunteer work can help one feel not so alone and take the focus off oneself. Invariably, a better frame of mind results by knowing one has helped another person.