Trauma Talk: Is PTSD therapy different if the trauma was sexual?

Question

Is the therapy for PTSD from sexual trauma different than the therapy for PTSD from anything else, say a car accident? How is it different?

Answer

Post-traumatic stress disorder occurs when someone has had their bell rung at a primal level and that bell cannot be unrung.

The person experiencing PTSD has come up close and personal with their own mortality. While the experiences vary, generally they include one or more of three types of encounters: Their life has been placed in peril such that death seems imminent, or they see another individual or individuals die, or they witness intense carnage or mayhem.

Certainly being sexually traumatized, to the point of your question, can trigger PTSD and just as certainly it can be managed.

No matter what the source of the PTSD may be, there are two therapeutic approaches that are most commonly used to treat it: Exposure therapy; and eye movement desensitization reprocessing, or EMDR.

Exposure therapy deals directly with the sufferer’s experience and their beliefs that have arisen from the experience. The person experiencing PTSD can learn to manage the symptomatic reactions by coming to accept the experience.

I’d suggest that the old cliche “the devil is in the details” is appropriate to traumatic exposure because consciousness will recall some details but may lose or even repress others.  The event is, therefore, not remembered accurately and some of the key  actions, pieces and circumstances that had decisive impact on the event and outcome are just not remembered. 

Through guided imagery and verbal narration by the client (the mechanics of exposure therapy) the details of the experience are revealed, and once properly processed, the traumatic experience may actually become a source of strength and security that enhances rather than inhibits the person’s life.

EMDR examines the sufferer’s life events that may have led to strong beliefs about how life is and how it operates. Exploring those beliefs may facilitate insight into how he or she reacts to the traumatic experience and can lead to a path of managing the symptomatic “triggering.”

The mechanics of EMDR therapy have the client involved in a bilateral process; this could be eyes tracking light as it moves horizontally across a light bar or electronically operated rubber bulbs that are held in the right and left hand and pulse alternately in a steady pattern while the therapist queries the client about feelings, thoughts, details and so forth of the traumatic experience. 

Perhaps the phenomena of the eyes moving left to right or right to left, as if the client were reading or watching television, assists in somehow understanding the dynamics of the experience and their reaction.

Ultimately, in my experience, treatment of PTSD involves “reframing” the traumatic experience through a process of defining and clarifying what happened with an as objective-and-detailed-as-possible overview. With this clarity about what actually transpired the “understanding” of the experience can be shifted more toward the circumstantial and less toward any culpability on the part of the person herself. 

PTSD can stem from war, natural disasters (earthquakes, floods, fires), plane crashes and automobile accidents, sexual or domestic abuse, and the list goes on. These traumatic experiences quite frequently leave the victim with a strong conviction that there must have been something they could have done that would have prevented the event from happening or could have mitigated its adverse effects.

The biggest hurdle to learning to manage PTSD is overcoming the common belief that the victim – this could be you – was somehow responsible for their own victimization.

Traumatic experience is an equal opportunity hater; it comes down to being in the right place at the wrong time.  One of my central beliefs is that life operates such that catastrophic or hugely rewarding events can happen any time and at any place; we’re rolling the dice every minute of our lives. 

When we are traumatized, we are best served by allowing a professional to support us in sorting it out so that we can learn and grow from the experience.  Think of it like this: When you win the Lottery, chances are you are best served by having a professional help you figure it out so you don’t buy eleventeen Lamborghinis and a mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean built on the San Andreas Fault. 

A good therapist will take the time to get to know you as separate from your condition or reason for seeking treatment. By doing that, they can support who you are instead of your endless expectations that you should be Prince or Princess Charming.  BTW, name a prince or princess that lived happily ever after.

Seek professional support. Over the course of a couple of sessions the best treatment path to follow will become clear and you can get busy taking back your life and expecting to become perfect.  — snort–

Do you have a question for Bruce about trauma affecting your life or someone you know?

Submit questions by email to is.up2u2@gmail.com | Questions are published anonymously.

Email: news@stgnews.com | Bruce Solomon is.up2u2@gmail.com

Twitter: @STGnews

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1 Comment

  • Brian January 27, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    Do a google search for “PTSD tapping”. It’s the best therapy I know of for PTSD, depression, anxiety, and even things like claustrophobia. Gary Craig went into VA hospitals and worked with Vietnam veterans who hadn’t been able to sleep well in 30 years and couldn’t recall certain incidents without breaking down and crying like babies (I don’t mean that in a bad way, of course). After several rounds of tapping they could recount the same stories without an emotional reaction, like they were recalling something they saw in a movie. It was still their experience, but the trauma was gone. Fascinating stuff. 3 sessions wiped out major depression that had been plaguing me for 20+ years, and 10 years later it’s still gone.

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