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There is no single path through the healing process. Some people find it helpful to think about healing in stages. In reality, healing is not a step by step process. Different life events may bring up old wounds over the years – like puberty, dating, marriage, or having children. You should expect to go back and forth between some of the below stages over time. Any response you have is normal.
Crisis: Immediately after the assault and for several days, weeks or months, many survivors may experience a state of crisis. During this time, you may have trouble sleeping, getting out of bed, eating, concentrating, and maintaining usual routines. You may struggle with shock, numbness, denial, powerlessness, fear, anger, guilt or shame.
A return to normal: As time passes these feelings may go away a bit. You may have developed ways to cope that are working for you to feel better. This return to ‘normal’ often feels good to survivors and you may begin to feel like you did before the assault. If you’ve been seeing a therapist or doing something else to work toward healing, some survivors take a break or stop at this point. Your family and friends begin to think that you’ve healed from the assault and are ready to move on with your life.
Crisis again: At some point, your ways of coping may stop working. It is common to be triggered by something or someone that makes you think about or relive the assault. You may go into crisis again. You may feel like you did right after the assault. This is normal and will likely happen more than once. However, it can be very difficult and hard to understand for you and friends and family.
Putting the pieces of your life together: It is common to go back and forth between feelings of normal and crisis. Over time, this back and forth process is how you put the assault together with who you are as a person. In the beginning it may feel like the assault defines you. As time passes, the assault may begin to feel less defining and more like something that happened to you. You will still have painful feelings and memories, but they are less intense, do not last as long, and do not have the same impact.
Options for help with healing
Therapy is a good option for many survivors of sexual assault and child sexual abuse. It is important to understand that healing from a sexual assault is a process. It often takes some time working together with a trained therapist for a person to experience healing. It may take more than one try at therapy or more than one therapist over the years.
If you are considering therapy, please make sure the therapist you’re working with is fully trained to understand sexual assault and abuse. Just because a therapist has a degree in psychology or social work, does not mean they have training in helping sexual assault survivors heal.
Alternative methods for healing
For some survivors, it may be helpful to explore different methods for healing or to add to the experience of therapy. There is growing number of options for healing. Some of these include: trauma informed yoga, acupuncture, massage, Reiki or other energy work, outdoor adventures, art therapy, journaling, dance, color therapy, healing touch, Tai Chi, and animal assisted therapy.
Crisis support is immediately available by calling Michigan’s Sexual Assault Hotline or contacting your local sexual assault service program or Child Advocacy Center.
Therapy may also be available from some local sexual assault organizations or Child Advocacy Centers for free. You can also work with a private therapist. If you have insurance, it may cover the cost of private therapy. Check your policy to see. Some therapists have what they call a ‘sliding scale’ structure for paying for therapy. This means that they will accept payment based on what you’re able to pay.
If you reported the assault to the police, you may be eligible for Crime Victim Compensation to help you pay for therapy.