6 Dos and 6 Don'ts For Helping Your Child Deal With a Sexual Assault

Sex assault is all over the news recently, and many survivors are getting triggered. As a parent or loved one of a survivor, it’s important to learn some strategies to help your child both immediately after their assault, and later in their life when their trauma can resurface due to unforeseen circumstances, like what’s happening in the current media. 

Here are 6 Do’s and Don’ts for Helping your Child Deal with a Sexual Assault:

Do:

  1. Believe them, even if what they say doesn't seem to make sense to you.

  2. Listen to them. It is usually much more helpful to listen than to ask questions.

  3. Be angry at the perpetrator, but keep your attention on your child and not on the perp.

  4. Support them while they make decisions, even if you disagree with what they decide.

  5. Help other loved ones respect their privacy and respond with respect.

  6. Understand that they will blame themselves for the assault. Don’t agree with their self blame. Assure them that the perpetrator is the one to blame.

Don’t:

  1. Seek revenge. This can re-traumatize them, and cause them to worry that you might make the situation worse.

  2. Blame them. While they may have taken some risks (as we all do, all the time), they did not decide or expect to be raped. 

  3. Disrespect their privacy by prying, inquiring or pressing them to tell you what happened. Let them tell you the details they want to bring up, when they're ready.

  4. Ask “why” about anything related to the assault. While it’s normal to want to understand why things happened, asking your child to come up with those answers can sound like you’re blaming them for their own assault. 

  5. Take charge of the situation. One of the most damaging things about being raped can be having control of one's body taken away. A natural response is to try to regain a sense of control, often by resisting decisions made by others.

  6. Assume that they don’t trust you or value your support if they don’t open up to you. It is much more likely that they don’t trust themselves to discuss the situation, or are not yet clear in their own mind about their feelings or thoughts.

Here are a couple of other important resources to help you support your young adult survivor. 

First, this article is a very good and thorough discussion of how to help a daughter who has been sexually assaulted: http://www.capefearpsych.org/documents/Rape-parentsguide.pdf

Second, here is a compilation of advice from advocates, doctors and legal experts for parents of a college student who has been sexually assaulted: https://grownandflown.com/rape-in-college-parents-need/

The most important thing to remember is that if your child has suffered a trauma of sexual assault, their feelings of fear, shame, guilt, sadness, anger, or other can get activated and resurface in unpredictable ways. For example, they may get triggered when engaging in or overhearing a conversation, seeing a story on the news, watching a movie, or scrolling through social media. Knowing these 6 do’s and don’ts for those occasions can help you prepare yourself for when that happens, so you can be a source of support in moments when they need it most. 

10 Ways to Boost Trauma Recovery: 7. Nutrition

10 Ways to Boost Trauma Recovery: 7. Nutrition

As a kid of the 70s, I grew up on tuna casseroles and Kool Aid. No one talked about connections between what we ate and our moods back then. These days there is an increasing understanding that diet is important not only for physical health, but also for mental health. So I thought I would finally look more deeply into how we may all be able to support healing from trauma and general mental health through what we eat (or don’t).

On a recent sunny Saturday afternoon I met with Mary Kay Irving at Fresh Thymes (my new favorite restaurant – thank you Mary Kay!). Mary Kay is a certified nutrition therapist and licensed clinical social worker in Boulder. She works at Mental Health Partners, and also has a private practice in which she offers psychotherapy and holistic nutrition coaching. I was intrigued by this combination and excited to learn more about what she had to say about nutrition and mental health.

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10 Ways to Boost Trauma Recovery: 5. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

10 Ways to Boost Trauma Recovery: 5. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

For this installment, I am pleased to introduce a practice called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). I interviewed Janet Solyntjes, who is a local MBSR instructor and a leader of various types of mindfulness and meditation retreats and workshops. Janet was kind enough to invite me to her home in Longmont, Colorado for tea and a delightful conversation.

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10 Ways to Boost Trauma Recovery: 4. Neurofeedback

10 Ways to Boost Trauma Recovery: 4. Neurofeedback

For this post, I want to discuss something that has been getting a lot of attention in the trauma therapy community lately, but which I’ve found difficult to understand: Neurofeedback. In my quest to better understand neurofeedback, I spoke to a few different neurofeedback providers, did some internet research, and tried some treatments myself. To include all of that, I’m going to leave my usual interview format behind for this post.

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10 Ways To Boost Trauma Recovery: 3. Pilates with Arianna Stout

10 Ways To Boost Trauma Recovery: 3. Pilates with Arianna Stout

I’m delighted to introduce Arianna Stout, a Pilates instructor in Boulder who teaches from her own private studio and also through the Boulder Parks and Rec Pilates program. This interview was especially fun for me, because I have done Pilates for many years, most recently with Arianna. It was actually during a Pilates session with Arianna that I had the brainstorm for this interview series! As I was working in that session, I noticed that Pilates often creates for me an experience that is just the type of healing experience that I am always striving to help my clients find. 

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10 Ways To Boost Trauma Recovery: 1. Yin Yoga

10 Ways To Boost Trauma Recovery:  1. Yin Yoga

Are you in therapy to recover from a bad experience, and wish you could see more progress faster? Well then, welcome to the first post of this blog series about different ways to boost the effectiveness of trauma therapy. I am interviewing professionals in the Boulder, CO area who provide services that experts recommend to help you optimize your recovery from trauma.

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Beyond Bubble Baths: Searching for Deeper Self Care

Beyond Bubble Baths: Searching for Deeper Self Care

What I love most about my work is the joy of witnessing people heal. On the flip side, I also witness a lot of suffering. To be capable of holding the suffering as well as the joy, I’ve had to deepen my understanding of self care. It is no longer good enough to get a massage or take a yoga class when I find that I’m stressed out. Those things can be great to do, but real self care, I’ve found, involves adjusting my attitude about caring for myself, as well as setting up a lifestyle in which I attend to my own needs on a much more regular basis. It's about keeping my tank filled so the needle never ends up on empty.

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Would therapy be better with a dog? Introducing Animal Assisted Therapy with Nova.

Would therapy be better with a dog? Introducing Animal Assisted Therapy with Nova.

I am delighted to announce that I have a new partner: a professional therapy dog. After graduating from our training and passing the behavioral test, Nova and I were approved and registered as a professional therapy dog team in July 2015 by Professional Therapy Dogs of Colorado.

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Questions to ask when looking for a therapist or counselor in Boulder, CO

Questions to ask when looking for a therapist or counselor in Boulder, CO

A couple of blog posts ago, I gave some tips for finding an ideal therapist in Boulder, CO. I hope it helped you narrow down your list from the thousands of therapists available in Boulder to a few who seem worth looking into further.  All of them offer some kind of consultation to see if you are a good fit. But what should you ask? What should you tell them about yourself? What is appropriate at this stage?

 

It can be tough enough to talk about the things that we need help with in our lives, without having to do it with a stranger. Especially a stranger we’re thinking about making a big investment of time and money with.  Let me help by giving you a few tips about things that are generally helpful to mention in an initial consultation with a new therapist: 

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How to Find Your Ideal Therapist in Boulder, CO

How to Find Your Ideal Therapist in Boulder, CO

We all know that Boulder, CO is a beautiful place to live, and yet sometimes the beauty around us is in stark contrast to what is going on inside us. People in Boulder have hard times, just like they do everywhere else. And while Boulder is known to have a high concentration of psychotherapists of all stripes, it can still be tricky to find the right one for you. If you are looking for a life coach, counselor, therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist – I’d like to help you find someone who can help.

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What if I Can’t Afford Counseling?

Unfortunately, a sad truth about counseling is that it can be expensive.  In Boulder, CO, where I work, typical fees for a 50 minute session seem to range between about $90 and $150. If you don’t have health insurance that covers counseling, or don’t want to use it (for example, if you are a teen who doesn’t want to involve parents, or if you don’t want a of record of your counseling history), or if you’ve already used up the few sessions your insurance covers, then what do you do?

The first place you may think of for low-cost counseling is a community mental health center. If you have a serious mental health problem, and limited resources, it is definitely worth checking with your local mental health center to see if they can help.  Unfortunately, mental health centers are usually overtasked, and underfunded.  Therefore, it may take some time to receive services at a mental health center.  

But don’t assume that that is your only option.  People with less serious needs, and/or some resources, may find that it is also possible to find relatively low cost counseling from other providers.  One option is to look for counselors who accept sliding-scale fees. This means that the fees are adjusted depending on the client’s ability to pay.  Other counselors may offer lower fees for a limited number of sessions, for clients with temporary financial difficulties.  Some counselors who accept these lower fee arrangements may be less experienced, but still well trained and qualified to work with you.

One way to find counselors in your area who offer a sliding fee scale is to search the Psychology Today Find a Therapist web site.  You can search by zip code, or state and city.  Then check the profiles of the counselors you find who look good to you.  In each profile there is a Finances section that shows their typical fees, and whether they use a sliding scale.  If they do, then it might be worth calling them to see if they will accept what you can afford to pay.  If not, they may be able to refer you to someone who will.

If you are lucky, there may be counseling organizations in your area that help you find low-cost counseling.  For example, in Boulder there is a counseling cooperative, called Boulder Counseling Cooperative, to which you can pay a modest annual fee ($50 to $125) and then relatively low per-session fees ($20 to $35).  The fees you pay depend on your income, and the counselors are well qualified, licensed professionals. 

Have you found affordable counseling in other ways?  Write in and let us know how you found it.

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Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for working with survivors of sexual violence and other traumas.  She does offer a sliding fee scale.

The Body as a Resource for Resolving Trauma

I attended an inspiring workshop over the weekend, presented by Drs. Bessel van der Kolk and Pat Ogden, two huge names in the field of trauma treatment.  The topic of the workshop was the use of the body, and particularly physical rhythms, to help resolve trauma.  One of the big nuggets of wisdom that I took away from the training was that two interventions can be particularly helpful for resolving trauma: 1) activation of interoception, which is sensitivity to stimuli originating inside of the body, and 2) purposeful physical action directed toward the traumatic event

Women in yoga class, courtesy of National Institute on Aging

An idea fundamental to both of these interventions is that when we are faced with a trauma, our bodies naturally and unavoidably prepare to act.  But when we then are not able act, those physical impulses don’t just go away.  They remain in the body, and are reencountered over and over again, as the trauma survivor is reminded of the traumatic event. 

The first suggested intervention, activation of interoception, is important because so many trauma survivors lock away awareness of physical sensations, because touching in to those can be so scary and unpleasant.  And yet, those sensations also give us information about how to discharge the pent up tension from the traumatic event.  So, the first step is to safely develop skills and tolerance, sometimes extremely gradually, for being aware of what is going on in our bodies. 

Some of the ways that were mentioned during the workshop for developing this interoception include yoga (and I would think that Pilates might be even more useful here), contact improvisation, meditation, boxing, and dancing the tango.  The key is that it should be some physical activity in which it is necessary to make subtle connections between what happens in the mind and in the body. Sometimes trauma survivors need help creating a safe environment for these types of activities.  A good trauma therapist should be able to help survivors with this.

Once the capacity for interoception is developed, the next suggested intervention is intended to help discharge those “stuck” physical responses.  They key here is that you can’t discharge the physical tension from a traumatic event in a general way.  The discharge has to be connected to the original traumatic event. So, how do you do that?  Drs. Van der Kolk and Odgen showed several examples.  We saw one video in which the survivor of a traumatic assault was graduating from a Model Mugging class.  Her final exercise was a reenactment of her original assault, only in the reenactment she successfully defended herself from the perpetrator.  Other videos included exercises in which the survivors discovered and explored bodily impulses, such as making a fist or making a stop signal with the hand, often with added verbalizations (“stop right there” or “stay away from me”).  Having a chance to discharge these pent up physical tensions in a safe environment seemed to open the door to a deeper resolution of the trauma than was achieved for these survivors through years of talk therapy.

Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga “ looks like an interesting book on this subject.  I have not yet read it, but it’s now on my short list.  It was written by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper, Ph.D., two practitioners at The Trauma Center in Brookline, MA, which was founded and directed by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.

Have you noticed a correlation between working with your body, and working with your mind?  What types of physical activities have you found most helpful?

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Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for working with survivors of sexual violence and other traumas.

Some Great Guided Visualizations

Sometimes dwelling on big problems like sexual violence can get a person down.  So, this week I’d like to point out a resource that I find helpful when I need some rejuvenating and resourcing.  I initially found the guided visualizations provided by Belleruth Neparstek and others at Healing Journeys, Inc. years ago when I was facing a scary medical procedure.  Her soothing voice and gentle guidance helped me to feel supported in my journey, and confident in the outcome.  I am convinced that they significantly reduced my stress going into the procedure, and improved the speed of my recovery.

I was reminded of Belleruth’s work recently by a consultation group in which I participate.  The discussion there inspired me to revisit the Healing Journeys web site, where I found several gems that I now own, or have placed high on my wish list.  My favorite discovery is that Belleruth, a psychotherapist herself, has produced guided visualizations specifically for those suffering from post traumatic stress.  On the site, Belleruth claims that her “Healing Trauma” guided imagery is the best work she’s done, which I expect means that it is very fine work indeed.  

Belleruth recommends that most people start with guided imagery designed for general stress relief, sleep enhancement, and grief, which sounds like good advice to me.  I find it to be critical to develop good resources for tolerating and containing difficult material before starting to work directly with any trauma.  Fortunately, Healing Journeys provides several guided meditations to help with that.  I am most interested in those by Belleruth herself, and so I have added her “Relieve Stress”, “Healthful Sleep”, and “Ease Grief” MP3s to my wish list as well. 

I have no relationship at all to Belleruth Neparstek or Healing Journeys.  I have simply found guided imagery to be very helpful both personally and professionally.  And I have found Belleruth’s work to be of the highest quality.

What resources do you find useful for taking care of yourself, and building resources for facing life’s more difficult realities?

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Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado.  She has a deep passion for working with survivors of sexual violence and other traumas.