Therapy To Help Your Child Heal, So That The Fear and Pain From Sexual Abuse (or Other Traumas) Does Not Define Who She Is As She Continues To Grow.
Your precious child has been sexually abused by someone you trusted and you want to stop their pain and ease their fears.
Your child seems like a different person since you learned of the sexual abuse. She or he seems more afraid and clings to you more. Sleep is poor as he or she has nightmares regularly. Bed time has become a real struggle. Then there are the big melt downs your child seems to have out of nowhere. One moment everything is ok and the next she or he is throwing a tantrum. You suspect it’s the trauma of the abuse and you try to have patience but it’s becoming a real challenge for you too.
You try to talk with your child about what happened but he or she freezes up or says, “I don’t want to talk about it.” But you want to make sure your child is ok. You have done your research and know the statistics on the long term effects sexual abuse has on survivors and you don't want this pain and heartache for your child.
I'm here to share with you that your child doesn't have to continue to suffer. The nightmares that wake them up at night can go away. Your child's fears can be managed. Those seemingly random outbursts of anger and tearfulness can decrease and even be eliminated. Therapy can help your child process their experience and learn new ways of expressing themself and coping.
Finally, even though therapy is focused on helping your child heal and recover, they still need you. You will be a big part of the healing process. Often your child's behavior is confusing to you and you're finding yourself frustrated with them and distancing yourself from them (dare I even say not liking them because of some of the things they do). The rupture impacts the relationship between you and your child, leaving it to be a less gratifying experience for both of you. This further exacerbates your guilt and shame. As your child's therapist I can give you the tools you'll need to reconnect with your child as you both heal and recover from the pain of her sexual abuse.
How Therapy Will work: Some Of The Things We Will Do Together To Get Your Child On The Right Path.
#1 During the intake session. I will first meet with you and I will gather a lot of information about your child and your family. After we meet I will then meet with your child and begin to get to know them. This can be done in 2 separate sessions or we divide the 50 minutes, just depends on your family's individual needs.
#2 We move at her pace. Therapy is about building our relationship. This means building trust, which is earned slowly. For children who have been sexually abused they often feel shame and blame that it's their fault. They also worry about getting the adults in their lives in trouble, so it's important that what we discuss stays private. The exceptions are in case of current abuse or neglect or if your child reports thoughts or a plan around suicide.
Furthermore, I will work with you, as the parent(s)/caregivers, on how to best support your child through healing which includes frequent communication between the two of us, bringing you into sessions at times, and encouraging you and your child to communicate with each other. Joint sessions with you and your child won't just be sitting around talking but we will be doing things that practice communication and focus on rebuilding your relationship with each other in a safe space. This often includes the use of play.
#3 We will feel together. The biggest part of healing will be to connect the parts of your child's self that they are disconnected from, because of the abuse. The disconnection helped them in the past because it allowed them to function and survive the trauma, but now this disconnection is keeping them from fully experiencing love and joy.
#4 We will do more than talk. We will play, do art, use music, and do yoga stretches in conjunction with talking. Trauma is stored in the body and by moving we will discharge the pent up energy stored up in your child's body. By using play your child communicates what is going on in her world as well as her thoughts and feelings. When we play together, whether using games online or she uses toys in my office, it's a chance for her to share her story and find a sense of resolution around her trauma in a safe and controlled way. This will keep her from being overwhelmed emotionally and triggering trauma responses (fight-flight-freeze). I also use art to help children express themselves in ways that words usually cannot.
I hope what I listed gives you a little glimmer into what I will do with your child in session. I am looking forward to connecting with you and your child and helping her on her path to healing.
How Trauma Presents Itself in Children?
- Impulsivity-acting without thinking
- Hyperactivity-they can't seem to sit still, focus, or they move quickly from one thing to the next
- Hypervigilance-this can look a lot like hyperactivity. Your child is constantly looking around the room, they don't pay attention to details, they seem jumpy and anxious
- Depression-sadness, hopelessness, apathy, irritability, moodiness, and early moved to tears (in children irritability is more common)
- Fears, Worries, and/or Phobias
- Sleep Challenges (such as: insomnia, restless/interrupted sleep, and nightmares/night terrors, difficulty falling asleep)
- Enuresis (day time and/or night time wetting after being potty trained)/Encopresis (difficulty controlling bowels/involuntary defecation)
- Regression (loss of previously mastered skills such as potty training, weening, wanting to sleep with parents, etc)
- Remember not all children who have experienced trauma will develop PTSD and/or other trauma related symptoms.
Your child's abuse does not need to define them
As a parent you worry a lot about how your child's sexual violation will affect her as she grows up. You're worried that they will be re-victimized, that she will always hate herself or feel she is disgusting, and you worry that she will grow up and just be unhappy.
This worry has driven you to seek help for your child now, so that she doesn't have to continue to suffer. Bravo! As your child's therapist I work with her where she is at. I do not push her or force her to tell her story, for many children have a difficult time understanding sexual violations. They understand that it hurt and made them feel uncomfortable but they also experience love and care for the perpetrator. These feelings are normal and also confusing. With the abuser away from your child, she may feel guilty because she got the person in trouble. Your child is often mourning the loss of this person as well. I help them understand that these feelings are normal.
In therapy we work through all aspects of the trauma so your child can feel a sense of this chapter in her life ending and she's on to the next chapter. I help your child discover her boundaries and learn to advocate or vocalize her thoughts, feelings, and needs to you and other important people in her life. Where she feels safe to come to you with all parts of herself and know that you will love her unconditionally. I will help your child find her strengths and feel empowered.
"My daughter is having bad dreams and can't sleep. She doesn't always remember her nightmares and I don't know how to help her"
Nightmares are typical for children who experience abuse and those that don't. For the child who experienced sexual abuse the nightmares may be of past sexual violations or monsters who are coming to harm them. Nightmares are very scary for your daughter and she needs a lot of love and comfort in these moments. You can ask her to tell you about the nightmares but don't push if she doesn't remember them. Don't ask her leading questions just you listening and validating her fears is enough to smooth some of her fear away.
During this times she may seek comfort in sleeping with you or in the same room as you, which is ok. If she has a favorite stuffed animal or blanket those can bring her comfort as well. Remind your child that these are just dreams and that they cannot really hurt her even though in the moment it feels like she is really going to be harmed. Reassure her that you are there to protect her. Last keep track of her nightmares. You will often find that theres a pattern to when they come and then you can take preventive steps that might aid in staving them off. As your daughter continues to heal you will see the frequency of nightmares decrease and often even be alleviated.
Healing from sexual abuse is possible for your child. Your child doesn't have to continue to suffer or be haunted by this ghost.
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