This section is primarily aimed at survivors, though is also relevant to therapists
Below are some strategies from being in therapy that I have found helpful.
I still write stuff down in big exercise books at home when I can’t work out what is going on with me/why I’m feeling so low/angry/fed up/scared. The feelings can be overwhelming but impossible to articulate. Writing or drawing words/pictures as they come into my head can help me to understand what has caused the feelings to emerge. With understanding, the feelings can be easier to manage. “Name it to tame it”. Sometimes I would read out some of what I’d written at my next session.
Write stuff down when you’re out and about – triggers, unexplained emotions. I carried a small notebook around when I was feeling particularly stressed during the police interviews and the subsequent waiting. Writing down “strange” feelings or things that triggered me was helpful as it concretised them and somehow made them smaller.
“Use the support around you”. Sexual abuse is a very isolating experience. Sometimes we forget that the people around us are happy to support us. My friend would often ask me what was wrong/what had happened/who had I seen when she noticed that I’d “gone” – this would often mean that I was having/had had a flashback. Going back over the previous few minutes would often enable me to work out what the trigger was and to then recognise it for what it was; simply a person, word, smell, action that jerked out a memory. I was not in fact “back there”, in an actual terrifying moment in the past.
I also prepped my friend to say things to ground me, such as describing where we were, asking me what she was wearing, etc. I would also do this myself if on my own, sometimes out loud, sometimes simply in my head. This can also be helpful in a session when you are panicking.
I found it helpful when I was feeling very low to have an “activities grid” that I’d have on my wall at home. This gave me some encouragement to do simple activities – walk the dog, listen to a favourite song, go for a drink with a friend, go for a swim or whatever. I’d tick off when I’d done something which helped me to see that I was able to do everyday things.
Another helpful thing to do when I was low was to write down on a scale of 1 – 10 how much I thought I would enjoy whatever I was planning to do – this was often a fairly low score – then write a new score afterwards for how much I’d actually enjoyed/not found threatening/upsetting the activity. This was invariably higher and helped me to see that my thinking was sometimes setting me up to not enjoy something.
I’ve started meditation with the app “Headspace”. This is challenging though helpful. It’s also free, with a choice to pay for additional courses.
I’ve found lavender very helpful in grounding me at times of extreme stress. While in the middle of the police stuff, I would sometimes squirt a spray of lavender and chamomile pillow spray before turning off the light to aid sleep; seemed to help (the one I used was by Avon, though I guess other manufacturers are available). I also always have a bottle of lavender oil in the bag I take to therapy, together with an old flannel to put a few spots on.
During particularly tough sessions ever the past year, when I was beginning to get in touch with my body and its memories, I realised that I needed some physical comforting contact. My Jack Russell does her best, but I discovered that a weighted blanket that I got online really helped. I could choose when and where over my body that I put the blanket and it helped me to feel comforted, in a way perhaps, that I’d missed out on in my childhood. It was good to have control over the touch too. I took the blanket to some therapy sessions.
I often take my shoes off while in a counselling session, it helps me to feel grounded.
I always make sure that if there is something on my mind during a session, I say it before the end. If the words are too hard, I’ll ask for some paper and a pen/crayons. Usually, once I’ve written it down, it is easier to read it out. Occasionally, I’ve asked my therapist to read it, maybe silently, maybe out loud. It is a horrible feeling to go home and think, “Why didn’t I say that/talk about that?”, knowing that I now have to wait a week to approach whatever it is that’s stuck.
I have very rarely spoken in detail while in a therapy session about many of the incidents when I was abused. It may be that, as I had to give graphic and detailed information to the police during those hours of interviews, that I haven’t needed to share the words with my therapist. I have given some outlines, particularly during EMDR sessions, which have helped to tag and date-stamp those events. It may be important for you to share details of your story, it may not be. Either is fine. Do whatever feels right for you. It is your story, your therapy, your decision.