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Want to Become a Counsellor? A Guide to Working with Clients Experiencing Sexual Trauma

Experiencing sexual abuse or sexual assault can be one of the more traumatic experiences that a person endures throughout their lifetime (Fader, 2021). Unfortunately, it’s a reality for many Canadians, with over 11 million Canadians reporting having been sexually or physically assaulted since the age of 15 (Statistics Canada, 2019). Sexual trauma can be defined as any level of subjection to sexually inappropriate behaviour without one’s consent, which causes a person to suffer significant stress (Miles, 2021). This behaviour could range from verbal abuse, such as intimidation, to physical abuse (Miles, 2021). 

If you’re seeking a career as a professional counsellor, you may be working with clients who are victims of sexual trauma. In order to effectively assess your clients’ situation and work with them towards healing, it’s important to understand the potential impact of sexual trauma on a client’s physical, mental, and emotional health. 

Read on to discover how sexual trauma can impact victims, and how counselling techniques can be effectively utilized to help clients to cope with their trauma.  

How Sexual Trauma Impacts Clients: Details for Those Training to Become a Counsellor

Due to the stigma that accompanies sexual trauma in today’s society, this form of trauma is unique (Fulton, 2018), and many people struggle to gather the courage to seek help (Fader, 2021). There is significant evidence that a person who undergoes sexual assault has a greater risk of experiencing psychological harm in a range of forms (Fulton, 2018). Survivors are at greater risk of developing mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and more (Fulton, 2018). They may also suffer from low self-esteem, feelings of anger, shame, guilt, and even dissociation from emotions (Fader, 2021). 

Sexual trauma can have a wide range of negative mental health effects on survivors

No matter when a survivor experiences sexual trauma, they may suffer from the impact for years to come (Fader, 2021). The experience can alter the way that someone sees themselves, preventing them from developing healthy relationships and establishing trust (Fader, 2021). Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is also extremely common in survivors of sexual trauma. If a person suffers from PTSD, they may often undergo intense flashbacks of the trauma they endured, making it difficult for them to recover and inhibiting their ability to regain a sense of normalcy (“Sexual Assault / Abuse”, 2019). If you’re enrolled in professional counselling training, your skills will be important when it comes to helping clients who are victims of sexual trauma to develop effective coping mechanisms. 

How Counselling Can Benefit Victims of Sexual Trauma

Sexual trauma is extremely difficult to face alone (Von Thiele, 2018). While many victims seek to avoid the feelings that stem from their trauma (Von Thiele, 2018), this can lead to an increased chance of developing depression, anxiety, and other negative mental health problems later on (Fader, 2021). For victims, counselling can be a space to address and process their trauma in a supportive environment (Miles, 2021). Counselling entails digging deep to confront painful memories, using a variety of tools and techniques to help victims to heal (Fader, 2021). 

Counselling can help victims of sexual trauma to develop healthy coping mechanisms

When survivors of sexual trauma speak to a counsellor, they have the opportunity to express the emotions surrounding their experience (Fader, 2021). As a counsellor, your attention and support enables clients to feel that their emotions are validated, which can be liberating for those who have suffered the impact of their trauma in silence (Fader, 2021). With guidance from counselling, survivors of sexual trauma can also become more self-aware, allowing them to understand the impact of the trauma on their current behaviours and emotions (Fader, 2021). Equipped with greater self-awareness, clients can become more open to treatments and techniques that may help them to cope with their trauma in a healthy way (Fader, 2021).

Counselling Techniques to Consider When Working with Clients Experiencing Sexual Trauma

If you want to become a counsellor, familiarizing yourself with some effective techniques to use when working with clients experiencing sexual trauma will help you to improve their lives. One technique you may use as a counsellor is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is a treatment in which you act as a coach to your clients, helping them to alter the behaviours and thought processes that result from their trauma (Von Thiele, 2018). This technique involves focusing on a client’s emotions and thoughts as they experience them, identifying ways that they can change how they perceive a traumatic event and replacing negative self-talk with different thinking (Von Thiele, 2018). 

Mindfulness is another approach that can be used to treat sexual trauma. When practicing mindfulness, individuals learn to ground themselves in the present moment and observe their emotions and thoughts as they come, without judgment (Von Thiele, 2018). Teaching your patients mindfulness practices can relieve their feelings of shame or guilt and enable them to treat themselves with compassion (Von Thiele, 2018). Survivors of sexual trauma can then use their mindfulness practice as a foundation to cope with their trauma in a healthy way (Von Thiele, 2018).

These are just some of the many techniques that can be used to help survivors of sexual trauma move beyond their experience and develop useful coping mechanisms. As a professional counsellor, using these techniques during your sessions with clients suffering from this particular type of trauma will enhance your ability to help them towards healing. 

Are you interested in enrolling in counsellor courses

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Works Cited:

Fader, S. (2021, May 27). Benefits Of Sexual Abuse Counseling. Better Help. https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/abuse/benefits-of-sexual-abuse-counseling/

Fulton, A. (2018, October 4). Building Strength And Resilience After A Sexual Assault: What Works. NPR. https://choice.npr.org/index.html?origin=https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/10/04/654151008/building-strength-and-resilience-after-a-sexual-assault-what-works

Miles, J. R. (2021, April 9). Sexual Trauma: Symptoms, Effects, & Treatments. Choosing Therapy. https://www.choosingtherapy.com/sexual-trauma/

Sexual Assault / Abuse. (2019, April 11). GoodTherapy. https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/sexual-abuse

Statistics Canada. (2019, December 5). Gender-based violence and unwanted sexual behaviour in Canada, 2018: Initial findings from the Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2019001/article/00017-eng.htm

Von Thiele, J. (2018, January 17). A Guide to Therapies That Can Heal Sexual Trauma. Greatist. https://greatist.com/live/guide-therapies-can-heal-sexual-trauma#1

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