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Child abuse survivors need therapy. Period. It does not matter if the abuse happened one time or was ongoing throughout your childhood. Healing from child abuse is extremely difficult, and you need a qualified therapist to help you through it.

I was determined not to enter into therapy when I first started having flashbacks about the child abuse. I was in the process of trying to adopt a child, and I feared that I would be “disqualified” if I was in therapy because I would be seen as “crazy.” (As it turns out, therapy is highly encouraged for hopeful adoptive parents and will not be held against you. You just need to have your therapist write a letter stating that your reason for seeking therapy will not negatively affect your ability to parent a child.)

I decided that I was going to do the healing work myself. The problem was that every resource I turned to began with, “Find a good therapist.” There is a very good reason for this advice …you need to work with a qualified therapist with experience working with people who have been abused because trying to do it yourself is simply too hard. If it was possible to heal through sheer force of will, then I would have done it.

If you try to heal from the child abuse yourself, you will find yourself in over your head. When you first come to terms with the reality that you were abused, you will go through a “breakthrough crisis.” For me, this felt like a pressure cooker of emotions had the lid blown off of it, and my emotions had exploded all over me. For six weeks, I truly did not know from minute to minute if I was going to survive it. Nevertheless, I was hell-bent on healing myself. I changed my mind after finding myself lying on the floor, shaking, crying, hyperventilating, and trying to decide on the best way to commit suicide. At this point, I realized that anything would be better than this and decided to enter therapy.

You will have many reasons not to enter therapy … costs too much … don’t have the time … etc. None of these reasons outweigh your need for therapy, especially during the early weeks and months in coming to terms with your history of trauma. If you were diagnosed with cancer, would you make the time to see a doctor? If you didn’t have insurance to treat the cancer, wouldn’t you seek out trial studies or lower income medical care to find affordable treatment? If you were abused as a child, you have emotional “cancer,” and the healing process is the “chemo.” Don’t try to treat the “cancer” yourself – work with a professional to help you heal.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Man behind desk (c) Lynda Bernhardt

On my blog entry entitled Faith Allen’s Story – Refusing Therapy, a reader posted the following question:

Do you find that somethings can just not be done alone? ~ MFF

MFF was referring to whether therapy is necessary in order to heal from some elements of child abuse. The short answer is yes – I do believe that some parts of healing from child abuse require the assistance of a qualified therapist.

As I shared in that blog entry, I was determined not to enter into therapy. However, I found myself finally recognizing that I was in over my head. I simply could not heal from the child abuse alone. I needed an expert to guide me.

A good therapist is going to encourage you to do lots of work between the sessions. My therapist never tried to make me dependent upon him. He gave me the tools I needed to heal. As I learned how to use those tools, I did not need to see him as frequently: I could use the tools he taught me to manage the flashbacks and pain on my own.

Healing from child abuse is simple – You need to love and accept yourself, including your experiences, as you are. That’s it. Of course, this “simple” goal was the most difficult thing that I have ever done (and continue doing). A therapist acts as a guide driving you to this place. He or she helps you dismantle the lies that you have believed throughout your life – lies such as that you are fundamentally unlovable, damaged beyond repair, deserve to suffer, etc. These are all lies, but we child abuse survivors believe them deeply and need an outside person – preferably a professional – to debunk the lies.

I also needed a professional to reassure me that I was not crazy because I truly had my doubts. I flip-flopped daily about whether I believed my flashbacks. My history is so “crazy” that I had a very hard time believing that it truly happened. It was easier to believe that I was “f@#$ed in the head” than to believe that all of these horrible things really happened to me. My therapist grounded me and believed in me when I was not able to believe in myself.

Another reason that a therapist is crucial is because a therapist knows the road map of healing. While we child abuse survivors intuitively know the path to healing, it does not feel “right” to us, so we tend to fight the flow of healing. We need a professional saying that it is a good thing that we are feeling terrible because we are never going to believe that for ourselves.

Also, because my therapist knew the road map, he often knew what was around the bend before I did. I would enter into his office feeling too ashamed to share the latest struggle, but he would intuitively “know” what I was facing because he knew what to expect while I did not.

Therapy is crucial for healing from child abuse. Whether you were abused “only one time” or your childhood was a complete nightmare, you need a therapist to help you heal.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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