Abuse & Trauma Counseling

What is abuse and trauma?

Abuse is any behavior (physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual) that is used to gain power over another person. It involves a misuse of power in order to hurt another person or persons, usually to enable the person to get their way. Feeling power over another person can be the sole motivator for abuse. When abusive behavior overwhelms the ability to cope, psychological trauma results.

Abuse and violence are epidemic problems in our society. My experience and training enable me to assess and provide counseling for those clients who have abuse of any kind in their history or their present experience.

Abuse can result in psychological trauma when the ability to cope is overwhelmed. Some abuse and trauma experiences result in the development of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. If you are wondering whether you are experiencing Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, you can go to the Post-traumatic Stress Disorder article to see a list of symptoms.

Common forms of trauma I provide counseling for:

  • Domestic Abuse
  • Adult survivors of childhood physical, emotional, or sexual abuse or neglect
  • Rape and other forms of Sexual Assault

I can also work with psychological trauma that results from non-abuse related sources, which can also overwhelm people psychologically. Examples are:

  • Natural disasters (tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.)
  • War
  • Health Crises

How can counseling help abuse or trauma victims?

Both abuse trauma and other traumas respond to counseling which reduces or eliminates the effects of the past on the present by learning how to:

  • develop tolerance for and manage emotions
  • transform negative beliefs about the self
  • learn new patterns of behavior
  • grieve the abuse or trauma experience
  • increase ability to accept and let go of the past

As a psychotherapist, I have been trained in therapies that research has proven to be highly effective with trauma recovery, such as:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy – this therapy helps the individual change behavior and thought patterns
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – this therapy is useful in reducing trauma symptom

What is Domestic Abuse and how does it affect people?

Domestic abuse is the systematic use of verbal, psychological,
physical, and/or sexual abuse to have power and control over an
intimate partner (whether dating, living together or married).

The root of all these types of abuse is the desire to control another person. If you believe you or another person is in a controlling relationship, you might find it helpful to look over the Controlling Behaviors Checklist.

For those affected by controlling partners, it is very important for you to know that you are not alone.

You’re not alone because this is epidemic in our society. (For more information see the Department of Justice link on the Counseling Resources page.)

1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime.

You’re not alone because there are people who are concerned and helpful resources that are available. (See Survivor services on the Counseling Resources page.)

Common effects of experiencing controlling behavior include:

  • confusion over what has happened and why
  • battered self-esteem
  • grief
  • loss of trust in self
  • difficulties setting healthy boundaries
  • flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive memories
  • anger
  • uncertainty over what to do next

Counseling that is specific to the effects of controlling behavior can be very helpful. That is why I developed the Women’s Voices program for women affected by controlling behavior and abuse. I named my program Women’s Voices because I heard over and over the theme of women “losing” their voices and their sense of who they are. Women’s Voices counseling assists women in finding their voices and healing. There is no pressure to leave a partner nor are there preconceived notions of what is best for any woman. I developed a curriculum of materials for women in 1991 and use those materials in both individual and group counseling.

I work with individuals to decide whether individual or group counseling will best meet their needs. I have found that group therapy can be very empowering for those affected by abuse. The Women’s Voices group is a 20 session structured group that offers support, cognitive behavioral tools, and experiential exercises, all designed to address the most common issues facing survivors of intimate partner abuse. Since group is not the therapy of choice for everyone, this program is also available in individual sessions.

If you recognize characteristics of controlling behavior in yourself, abuse help is available. There are psychotherapists that compassionately help you to take charge of changing how you’ve learned to be in relationships. I believe that people learn to be controlling and abusive, that nothing justifies abusive behavior, and that everyone who chooses to hold them selves accountable and learn new behavior can make changes.

I believe that you will benefit from investing in yourself and choosing to end the cycle of abuse in your family. I would be happy to direct you to appropriate counselors and programs for this type of work, or you can access this information through the Domestic Abuse – Abuser Treatment link on the Counseling Resources page.

How does childhood abuse affect adult survivors?

Many adults carry baggage from childhood abuse experiences that affects their current relationships and work. Even though adults may have developed many useful strengths in coping with these experiences, they may also find the past overshadows the present in one or more of the following ways:

  • being extremely passive in personal or work relationships or very aggressive and irritable (or both, depending upon the situation)
  • experiencing depression without a present cause or stressor
  • having a low self-esteem and lack of confidence
  • experiencing panic attacks
  • experiencing a general feeling of anxiety most of the time
  • feeling empty inside
  • uncertainty about what to do
  • difficulty knowing feelings

Abuse can take many forms:

  • physical abuse
  • verbal abuse
  • emotional abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • physical or emotional neglect

Childhood neglect is often an unidentified and misunderstood occurrence. Psychotherapists and researchers agree that neglect is actually more psychologically devastating than physical forms of abuse. This is because it affects the ability to attach and to know the self through mirroring by other important people. Other forms of abuse often occur with neglect.

What help is available for rape and sexual assault victims?

Rape and sexual assault or harassment victims benefit from the same types of therapy used for other forms of abuse. Talking to a counselor as soon as possible can help:

  • to stop re-living the trauma mentally
  • promote attention to any safety concerns
  • reduce the possibility of post-traumatic stress disorder
  • validate the rights of the assaulted person
  • reinforce positive beliefs about the self
  • reduce self-blame
  • transform helplessness to empowerment

Counseling for sexual assault that occurred in the past is also very important. Many who have not had support or help at the time of the assault find that it continues to haunt their present in some of the following ways:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty with sexual relationships
  • Shame, self-blame
  • Panic attacks and/or anxiety
  • Depression

Insight comes slowly like the
careful stringing of pearls.
A jewel, a knot, another jewel,
another knot.
It’s an insanely difficult act
to make a necklace
in the midst of tempest,
to sit quietly with trembling fingers,
while the well water spills
from the sides of your eyes.
But with insight comes healing,
the return of laugher,
the possibility of joy.

–Doris Schwerin, American writer