Friday, May 30, 2014

Regaining Closure

Most of us have had people in our lives that hurt us, and we never got the chance to tell them how we truly feel. Imagine being a survivor, where people have hurt you in some of the worst ways imaginable. Survivors often have mixed emotions towards their perpetrators: anger, hurt, sadness, maybe even love if they were close with the perpetrator or were related to them. Holding these feelings deep inside without finding a healthy release can lead to many physical and emotional issues.

Recently I was working with a client who was sexually abused by a family member. I told her to write a letter to him that we wouldn't send. The letter could be as short as one page or as long as 10 pages; the length didn't matter, what mattered is that she felt she wrote to him everything she needed to say. I also told her that I wouldn't read it unless she gave me permission.

The next week she brought in her 2 page letter. In the letter, she discussed her feelings towards the perpetrator and how his actions have affected her life. The letter ended with hope for her future. After processing how it was for her to write the letter, I told her we were going to have a funeral for it. She could dispose of any way she wanted (except burning, due to fire hazards). She chose to use the shredder in the office. I asked if she had any last words, and allowed her to shred the letter herself.
When I asked how she was feeling, she stated that she felt a weight had been lifted. She couldn't believe how something so simple as writing a letter could make her feel so free. She has even decided to continue doing this ritual on her own!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Survivor's Strength

Many of my clients tell me they feel weak. They feel like a failure. They feel broken; like damaged goods. I am incredibly sincere when I tell them that survivors are some of the STRONGEST people I know. Survivors have gone through some of the most terrible, unimaginable violations to their souls and bodies, yet they get up in the morning and try to put the pieces back together. I tell them that the fact that they are coming into my office, willing to discuss the horrors they've been through, show incredibly strength and resilience. There is life after trauma!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Emotions Worksheet

When working with survivors of sexual or domestic violence, especially teenagers, they can be very slow to open up. Many survivors are understandably weary about trusting people. When working with survivors of sexual violence, many of them will say they do not like to think about or talk about what has happened to them. This leaves many counselors wondering how they can approach the subject.

I tell all my clients that they do not have to tell me any details they don’t feel comfortable. It’s not about process the event(s), it’s about processing their feelings around what happened. As soon as I say this, many of my clients begin to visibly relax.

So how can you get the conversation about their feelings started? I use this worksheet that lists many different feelings, and have them circle which ones apply to them. I then discuss each emotion they have circled and how it is affecting their life. This has been especially useful with teenagers!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Focus Card

My client was sexually abused for several years and used dissociation as a coping mechanism. For the past couple has been going into more detail about the sexual abuse she experienced, and as a result she found that she’s been more spacey. I had her make a Focus Card to help ground her and this is the beautiful piece she created! I got the idea for it here. A Focus Card is defined as:

"A Focus Card has an image on it that helps you right now focus and be present. It is as simple as that; finding an image that emerges from being still and being inwardly focused that gives you visually what you need to feel centered, calm and present in your life. It takes strength to build resilience, inner peace and stillness in a world that is full of chaos and madness. This small card is a glimpse of stillness, a small oasis that can remind you that sanity is not far away. This calmness can carry you through the rest of the day and you can refer back to the image when you need to re-focus. It helps us to remember that not all of our life has to be calm, or in order. But small pockets of it can be, just like this small focus image. Starting small—and not expecting or trying to make all of your life manageable all of the time—is a sane way to live your life. There can be little spaces of calmness and sanity in the middle of the busyness of a day. Look for these spaces in your workday and home life."