Dealing with sexual trauma in therapy

We have reminded in the news once more that sexual harassment and abuse are very prominent issues in today’s society. The latest controversy around a famous movie producer for decades of sexual harassment and assault only adds to a long list of known cases of people using their positions of power to abuse others.

Of course, what we also know is this horrific phenomenon is not restricted to the rich and famous. Many therapists see the results of sexual trauma play out in our practices on a fairly regular basis. The range in behavior is vast, but the overreaching message of disrespect for another human being is resoundingly the same. In a therapeutic context, the victims of sexual misconduct are wounded deeply, mainly because of the serious lack of regard for their innermost sanctity and personhood.

Suzanne Slay - Respect Focused Therapy-2.png

This goes far beyond the physical acts themselves. It is the robbery of emotional and spiritual safety. It is the denigration of personal value. The damage done is ultimately repairable, but not before the pain is fully recognized and experienced.

Therapy is about this very process. It is the full recognition of what has been taken away without self blame or shame. Most often, the healing process involves self-forgiveness for being broken by the event, even though there is really nothing internally to forgive. A violation occurred externally, but struck so privately and personally that it frequently feels like a stain on one’s soul or psyche. With this understanding, it then makes perfect sense that coming forward by the victims may be indeterminately delayed, for fear of being seen with such a stain and/or having to endure more disgrace and humiliation because of it.

Cleansing and healing the wound made by someone else’s invasive or attacking behavior is the task that therapists are asked to assist with. Respect-Focused Therapy suggests that the best, most effective way we can do that is by concentrating our full energy and focus on truly respecting a person’s pain as well as the whole person completely. With the experience of receiving such depth of genuine respect, it is hoped that these individuals will have the platform on which to begin building, once again, their own self-respect as well as respect for others around them.

RFT Book Cover

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.