The Healing Journey
The effects of sexual violence can be difficult to overcome and the healing journey may seem to be a long one. There are many paths to healing; any action that leads you toward greater health, expanded self-awareness, and increased self-respect is beneficial in beginning or in sustaining the healing process. There are many ways to heal from sexualized violence. There is no right way. Healing is not a tidy, step-by-step process. Although there are particular aspects that have been identified from the experiences of many survivors, the stages of healing may not always occur in the same way or in the same order for each survivor.
Generally, healing can involve:
- Making a decision to heal. Taking that first step and deciding that you would like to make change in your life.
- Facing the crisis of beginning to realize the impact of the abuse/assault on your life.
- Remembering more details or remembering feelings associated with the abuse/assault.
- Working through the desire to deny or minimize the abuse/assault and to believe and accept that it really happened.
- Breaking the silence and telling about the abuse/assault.
- Healing the shame and coming to understand that it wasn’t your fault.
- Learning to trust yourself and your perceptions and judgments.
- Grieving the loss that resulted from the abuse/assault (of innocence, of trust, of a sense of security).
- Getting in touch with your feelings including your anger about what happened.
- Developing a sense of spirituality or meaning through art, music, religion, or a spiritual practice.
- Resolution – achieving some sense of peace and still allowing you to cycle through previous stages if necessary with less pain and with greater self-awareness
“There’s more than anger, more than sadness, more than terror, there’s hope.” Edith Horning, Survivor / Beginning to Heal (2003), Ellen Bass & Laura Davis.
Why We Work the Way We Do – Stages of Trauma Healing
At the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre, all of our counselling work is based the idea that there are three stages of trauma healing and that the first stage is necessary before going onto other work. Our introductory counselling groups and our crisis support work focus on safety and stability. Later counselling groups and the in-depth individual counselling provide opportunity to work on other stages of healing.
Safety and Stabilization
Establishing a basic sense of safety and stability, both internally and externally through:
- Identifying and developing resources
- learning skills to deal with triggers, flashbacks, emotions
- learning healthy coping skills
This foundation is necessary before doing Stage 2 work. Also, one might decide this stage is all they want.
Remembrance and Mourning or Trauma-Processing
- Gradually processing memories of trauma so they become part of one’s story, but they no longer have the same emotional charge
- processing emotions (e.g. grieving, working through anger, etc…)
- Separating past from present
- Building connection within self (e.g. increase awareness of body)
- In this phase there is movement back and forth between processing work and stabilizing work
- Integration into everyday life
- Making meaning of the past
- Developing and strengthening attachments
- Holding appropriate boundaries
- Exploring intimacy
This three phase or tri-phasic model of trauma treatment is based on Judith Hermann’s (1992) work and is considered Best Practice in trauma healing work.