I cannot emphasize this strongly enough: If you are just beginning your healing journey, find a qualified therapist with experience in counseling people with your particular history. The healing process is grueling, and it is very, very hard to heal without a therapist helping you along.
I was in the process of waiting to adopt a second child when my flashbacks started, so I did not want to enter into therapy. I feared that the social worker might view me as “crazy” and refuse to approve our home study, which would prevent us from adopting again. So, I decided that I was going to heal on my own. Big mistake! I was having flashbacks daily and overwhelmed with pain. I found myself lying on the floor in a full-fledged panic attack, shaking uncontrollably and banging my head on the floor while considering ways to kill myself. I decided in that not-so-proud moment that anything was better than this. The next morning, I sought out a therapist. I am so glad that I did.
Therapy is nothing like you see on television. You do not lie on a couch (unless you really want to) while a stoic person holds a notebook and says, “… and what do you think of that?” a hundred times. Therapy is also not intended to be a lifelong commitment. Instead, therapy is about having someone in your corner who knows the way out. The actual healing takes place between sessions with your therapist acting as a cheerleader and guide.
A therapist also helps you reframe your experiences. For example, I told my therapist that I had been triggered and cried for over an hour – deep, wracking sobs that came from somewhere so deep inside that I found it hard to believe that I could survive that level of pain. His response was that this was good because I was feeling. I had spent most of my life numb, but now I was experiencing my emotions again. I never would have viewed this experience as “good” without his reframing it for me.
A therapist provides you the validation that it was “that bad.” Most abuse survivors minimize their experiences, saying things like, “She almost killed me, but it wasn’t that bad: Others have been through worse.” A therapist also provides reassurance that you are not crazy and shines a beacon of hope that you will heal. He also helps you to stay realistic about your healing expectations.
Some health insurance plans cover therapy. Many therapists charge on a sliding scale, so even those of you with limited means can still afford therapy. If you are in school, many colleges offer free therapy for their students. Therapy is not a luxury: It is a crucial part of the healing process.
Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt