Working with Victims of Sexual Assault

Many of us, myself included, have been riveted by the recent confirmation hearings of Judge Kavanaugh for a seat as Supreme Court Justice. It is not my intention here to speak to his guilt or innocence of the accusations made against him regarding sexual misconduct because that has not been determined by any court of law, but it is extremely pertinent and timely to address the trauma of sexual assault as well as the secondary trauma that can be induced by the way in which the such reports are received.

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As I watched Dr. Blasey Ford give her testimony, I was struck by her strength in her position juxtaposed by her frailty in her voice at the same time. As a therapist, I was aware of her refreshed pain and fear, as though it were happening all over again when she recounted events that took place 36 years ago.

The “Me Too” movement has emboldened our collective awareness to the enormity of this issue and the deeply personal painful gravity of sexual assault survivors among us. We know that Dr. Blasey Ford’s story is one of many, each one unique, but also similar to the lifetime of pain inflicted. There is also fear of further shame potentially cast in the telling of such trauma to others who may not safely regard them in their stories.

It is clearly our job as therapists to make sure that we provide the utmost level of security and safety to our clients who hold such experiences deep within their hearts for varying lengths of time. If it was weeks or decades ago, the level of horrific memory is substantially the same. Therefore, it’s imperative that we hold for them comparable levels of deep, authentic respect for who they are in the moment and the memories they unfold. To not conscientiously provide this extra layer of unwavering acceptance and belief in them is to risk further damage. To be true healers is to be steadfast in our open-heartedness and intentional respect for those we serve.

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Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.