Being abused sexually – whether as an adult or a child – can have significant and long-lasting effects on your psychological well-being. There were over 38,000 serious sexual offenses reported in England and Wales from 2011 to 2012, with many more going unreported, and although victims are most likely to be women aged between 16 and 24, it can happen to anybody regardless of gender, age, sexuality or race. Sexual abuse counselling in Luton and Dunstable is worth considering if you’ve suffered sexual abuse in the past, aiming to help you come to terms with what’s happened and cope with resulting issues including low self esteem, depression, betrayal, confusion, problems with intimacy and more severe potential consequences such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Psychological Consequences of Sexual Abuse
Contrary to the image of sexual abuse as being perpetrated by the “stranger lurking in the bushes,” most instances of sexual abuse actually involve somebody you know, like a partner, ex-partner, colleague, relative or friend. This is extremely distressing for anybody, regardless of age, but for children in particular it can have devastating effects on their ability to trust others in later life, leading to feelings of betrayal, confusion and even guilt. For children, abuse often occurs as they’re establishing their assumptions about themselves, others and the world, and when they’re learning the coping skills and relationship skills they will come to depend on in later life – often leading to long-term issues. Fear and panic attacks, low self esteem, difficulty getting aroused, problems with intimacy, pain during sex, anger and depression can also be consequences of sexual abuse for victims of any age.
There are also many more severe resulting psychological issues that can be addressed in sexual abuse counselling. Post-traumatic stress disorder is one potential consequence, as is the coping method called “dissociation,” where the individual has a feeling of being “out of” his or her body, feeling numb or like you’re “floating above yourself” and watching events unfold. This can occur in later, consensual sexual experiences too – the individual begins to associate all sex with the past experience of abuse and reverts to the dissociation coping mechanism when it’s no longer needed. In children, issues such as oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder can develop after sexual abuse.
How Sexual Abuse Counselling Can Help
Attending sexual abuse counselling – whether for recent abuse or something you experienced in the past – is the best way to address the issues that have developed and come to terms with what happened to you. At first, sessions may focus heavily on education about the common psychological consequences of sexual abuse, and counsellors stress that the coping mechanisms you used at the time (for example dissociating) served a definite purpose at the time, but point out that they’ve since become a detriment to day-to-day functioning. The next stage is about re-processing and accepting what happened along with its consequences. Your counsellor will help you through this process – which usually involves painful emotions re-surfacing – allowing you to express previously suppressed emotions and cognitively re-assess what happened to you from a rational, adult perspective. You’ll learn new coping mechanisms for dealing with difficult emotions and your counsellor will help to strengthen your sense of self, as well as boosting your assertiveness and self-esteem.
Of course, every victim of abuse has unique needs, and counselling can be adapted to ensure you receive the support you need. If you’d like more information about the options available to you for sexual abuse counselling in Luton and Dunstable, get in touch with us today! We’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have, and can help you work out if counselling is the right option for you. Just remember that you don’t have to go through this alone – we’re here to help you. For more information about our costs for sexual abuse counselling services please see the about us page.