What I’ve Learned as a Therapist of Sexual Abuse Survivors

“What do you do for work?” “I am a therapist working with survivors of child sexual abuse under the age of 18.” Insert silence and wide-eyed stares. Responses to the work that I do include “Wow, I don’t know how you do that every day” or “that has to be really hard work.” I love these moments as they allow me to educate on the power of healing, therapy, and resiliency of survivors of childhood sexual abuse. It is also a moment of pride in thinking about how amazing the survivors are that come through therapy at Family Support Line. Each survivor comes with a different experience and story. However, they all come with the ability to not only live their best life, but to thrive. This power is within them and is supported through the therapeutic process.

Healing

Healing is an individual process for each survivor. For some, healing begins with the first disclosure statement, some when their court case is finalized, and others start their healing once they enter therapy. All healing, no matter what form it takes, is vital for survivors. Healing is a mysterious process. There are times the survivor is aware of moments of change in how they react to situations or how they feel about their past. Other times, they don’t necessarily see the healing that they are working so hard to achieve. This is where therapy allows the survivor not only to heal, but to celebrate their hard work that has led them to their healing journey. These celebrations for the survivor allow them to see the power they can have back in their life. It can be difficult to find joy or celebration following childhood sexual abuse. It is important to make moments of celebration and joy as a way to allow the survivor to start healing.

Therapy

Therapy has a long history of being stigmatized; it doesn’t work or that it’s just a place to get advice. One thing that therapy is not is just a place for advice. Therapy is a place where one talks about their deepest fears, pain, success, and growth. Most importantly, therapy is where the survivors figure out for themselves what they need in life, not by advice, but by careful process of what truly makes them happy and safe. Therapy for a survivor of childhood sexual abuse is sometimes the first place that they can talk about their experience without feeling like they are hurting a family member by talking about it or fear of judgement by those in their life. Therapy is a place where survivors can talk about all aspects of their life and how their experience of childhood sexual abuse has affected all those different areas. Most importantly, it is a place where they can take all the heaviness they are feeling and leave it in the therapy room so they don’t have to carry this burden with them day in and day out. It’s as if they put down an extremely heavy backpack for the first time and are able to walk taller and stronger than ever before. The therapist’s job is to create a safe holding space for all this survivor needs to help them heal.

Resiliency

Resilience is when one attains positive adaptation following adversity. Each survivor who comes through our doors at Family Support Line exudes resilience. Their strength is one that is not able to be described through words. We see their strength by what they endured and sometimes continue to endure in life. We see the strength by how they continue through their life even after facing a horrific life experience. We most importantly see their resilience through their smiles in the waiting room when they come in and greet familiar faces. A survivor’s resilience starts when they are able to take back positive control in their life and learn how to be the owner of their body. Resilience does not come easily; it comes in the face of tough situations and hardship. These survivors have faced unimaginable experiences in their life and they continue to wake up each day striving to have a better life…in most cases, all before they are teenagers. This is the true definition of resilience.

So when people ask me what I do for work, I smile, think of all the survivors I have had the honor of working with, and state proudly “I am a therapist for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.” There is nothing in this world that brings more humility and peace then thinking of the strength and resilience of each and every survivor.

To learn more about therapeutic services offered at Family Support Line go to http://www.familysupportline.org/services/treatment

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Tiffini Lanza
Tiffini Lanza
Tiffini Lanza is our licensed therapist and educator at Family Support Line.