Everyone can benefit from a network of supportive people around them to optimise psychological and emotional health. Many adult survivors of childhood trauma and abuse find it challenging to identify a network: they may not be able to rely on their families, and they may find it difficult to establish and maintain friendships and relationships.
An increasing number of health professionals are becoming trained to work with adult survivors of childhood trauma and abuse acknowledge in a range of contexts, from general practice, to mental health services, to alcohol and drug services, and beyond. When seeking help it is important to establish the expertise and experience of any practitioner in working with adult survivors.
This section of our website provides a comprehensive overview of your options for care and support. Blue Knot Foundation's Blue Knot Helpline - 1300 657 380 operates 9-5 Mon-Sun AEST. You can call and speak to one of our counsellors who can also assist you with options for additional help and support from a referral to its expanding national database of practitioners and agencies with expertise and experience in working with adult survivors of childhood trauma and abuse.
At times, there are big hurdles and sometimes you don’t feel like dredging up any more crap. You get tired of the gut churning feelings, but the pain is just below the surface at all times anyway and facing it has really helped it to lose its powerful hold over me. Sometimes it is hard to talk about things. I just allow the emotions and pain to come up and I try to ride with it. Then when I feel comfortable enough I speak of why I am feeling the way I am… (study participant in van Loon & Kralik, 2005c).
Some professionals feel that little is to be gained by going back over past experiences and delving into them. Others believe that telling your story relieves the burden of carrying your history around, as though it is the sum total of who you are. Your abuse is not your whole story. Talking externalises those past experiences, and disentangles the issues they invoke from who you are, making it possible to separate yourself from the experiences (van Loon & Kralik, 2005c). In relation to exploring the past, some survivors conclude that they do not need to dig too deep because the process of exploring may become re-traumatising (van Loon & Kralik, 2005b). Some survivors explain that it is important to acknowledge that the abuse happened and speak about the aspects of the abuse story that relate to the impacts of the abuse, rather than the details of what happened (van Loon & Kralik, 2005b).
It is important only to share your story when and if you feel ready to do so, and only within a safe environment, with a person you can trust. If you don’t want to talk about your abuse experiences, you may not be ready to do, in which case it might be preferable not to.
Many survivors feel that they have few people to whom they can talk, or from whom they can seek and receive support. However, it is important not to try to recover in a vacuum. Learning to trust others and to turn to them for support is a crucial step in recovery. Doing so challenges one of the basic notions arising from a history of interpersonal trauma and abuse: namely, that people are dangerous. Trust your own feelings. Choose people who are available, interested in you and who can engage with your situation.
Professional help can be of tremendous value to survivors attempting to overcome the negative impacts of their abuse. Recovery usually proceeds more quickly and more safely if you are working with a skilled professional. In a relationship with an ethical and clinically appropriate therapist, the client experiences safety, respect for boundaries, sensitivity to needs and validation of both the abuse that occurred and the role of recovery in creating a happy and meaningful life.
Disclosing your experiences can help rob the trauma or abuse of its potency. Even though the effects cannot be completely erased, they can certainly be diminished, and coped with in a healthier way.
Calling Blue Knot Helpline on 1300 657 380 and accessing our referral database can help you identify suitably qualified therapists and agencies in your area. It is recommended that you choose a therapist who holds a recognized qualification in counselling, psychology or a similarly skilled area. In addition, particular experience and expertise in working with survivors of childhood abuse is vital. Make sure you feel safe in the consulting rooms of the health care professional you choose and that they are sensitive and encouraging. Your chosen therapist would ideally answer any questions you have about their experience, models of working, professional memberships and qualifications. So, feel free to ask!
Once you have entered into a therapeutic relationship with a professional, if you feel yourself being pushed too hard, or you are uncomfortable with suggested therapeutic methods, try to discuss your concerns with your therapist. If the therapist’s suggestions aren't compatible with your feelings or beliefs about your abuse, then try to discuss this as well. You should be comfortable with the pace of your therapy and be able to discuss your progress openly with your therapist. If you are not comfortable after discussing your concerns consider choosing a different therapist.
Even though you may need support to reclaim your capacity to make decisions, a good therapist will allow you to keep control of your life and encourage you to join in decisions about your care. You may want your therapist to make a decision for you while you are in a state of crisis, and doing so may be necessary at times, but it is still important that you are offered that choice (van Loon & Kralik, 2005c).
Choosing a therapist can be intimidating, confusing and time-consuming. It is often advisable to ‘shop around’ before you make your choice.
The following advice might help you:
- Seek personal recommendations from other survivors.
- Seek recommendations from Blue Knot Helpline on 1300 657 380, 9-5 Mon-Sun AEST.
- Prepare a list of questions to ask the therapist you have chosen, eg. What is his/her experience in working with survivors (particularly with issues that are relevant to you)?
- What approach(es) does he/she use in therapy?
- How much will it cost?
- Is there any possibility of a concessional rate?
- What are the options for payment?
- How available is he/she?
- What form do the sessions take?
- How long are the sessions?
- What are the rules about cancelling a session?
- Is there any facility for contact between sessions?
- What are the arrangements for holidays?
- What process is followed when therapy finishes?
- Will you be given the option of returning?
- Will you be involved in the decision-making process?
- Beware of therapists who stress a particular approach or technique, or who are dogmatic about issues such as forgiveness, confrontation, etc.
- Beware of therapists who give hugs, shake hands too readily, or sit too close without invitation. If you do feel uncomfortable when interviewing a therapist, trust your instincts.
- Beware if your therapist seems overly interested in your sexual history and questions you in detail, especially when the questioning appears irrelevant.
- Beware if your therapist avoids sensitive issues and talks in generalities. Is your therapist able to handle the feelings and content that you bring to therapy?
Ask yourself the following:
- Do I feel intimidated by this therapist?
- Does he/she listen to me?
- Do I believe that I can disagree with him/her?
The therapist you choose should be a good listener, who is both empathetic and non-judgmental. Your therapist needs to be a trusted partner in your process.
Psychotherapy is the umbrella term for a set of interpersonal healing techniques that support people to develop understanding about themselves and to make changes in their lives. Psychotherapy may be practiced by accredited psychotherapists, counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists.
A limited number of psychotherapy sessions are accessible through Medicare via referral from your GP and through some private health care funds. A therapeutic alliance with a well trained and sensitive psychotherapist is an important resource for adult survivors of childhood trauma and abuse.
Ideally, a psychotherapist working with adult survivors should have a basic understanding of abuse and trauma, or else be open to further education and training such as is provided by Blue Knot Foundation nationally. Unfortunately, many therapists complete their training without a basic understanding of the dynamics of childhood trauma and abuse. That's why it's important to access a therapist with expertise and experience in how to work effectively with adult survivors.
The strongest predictor of good outcomes in psychotherapy is not the type of therapy, but rather the ability of the psychotherapist to establish a strong rapport with their clients. The nature of the relationship is critical. At times any therapeutic process may be uncomfortable due to the nature of the issues being explored. However, it is crucial that you feel comfortable and safe with your psychotherapist, and that they are working with you to build on your strengths, and providing you with new tools to cope with day-to-day life.
Counselling is a broader term than "psychotherapy" and refers to any professional guidance in resolving personal conflicts and emotional problems. There are many different counselling approaches, and they often draw on psychological theory and techniques. Many counsellors have related qualifications and accreditations.
Counselling and psychotherapy have both recently taken steps towards becoming a regulated field of care. Before establishing an ongoing professional relationship and in order to better understand the type and quality of the counselling approach Blue Knot Foundation recommends you check the qualifications, expertise, approach, experience and registration status (with a recognised professional body) of any counsellor or psychotherapist with whom you may be interested in engaging.
Sexual assault services exist in all states and territories of Australia. While their main focus is on recent sexual assault victims, adult survivors of child abuse comprise approximately a quarter of clients seen by these services.
Sexual assault services are excellent resources for adult survivors of child abuse. Many such services provide phone counselling, one-on-one counselling, online counselling, as well as group programs and referral options for adult survivors of child sexual abuse. It is worth noting, however, that these services are chronically underfunded, and are often forced to prioritise services to recent victims of sexual assault.
Complementary therapies, or alternative therapies, refer to a range of practices and techniques outside of those usually practiced by accredited psychotherapists and counsellors. Complementary therapies have become increasingly popular in many different areas of health over the last thirty years, and mental health is no exception. Examples of complementary therapies in mental health include practices based on yoga, reiki and other meditative traditions, as well as techniques that incorporate dance, massage or other physical activities. Some or other of these approaches can be of substantial benefit to survivors at different times in their journey.
When investigating complementary therapies, it is important to note that practitioners are not necessarily bound by the same standards of conduct and care as psychotherapists and other accredited mental health care professionals. Psychotherapeutic techniques are regularly evaluated and tested for their effectiveness, whereas complementary therapies are often not. It is often preferable to maintain a therapeutic relationship with a qualified and experienced mental health professional whilst exploring complementary and alternative therapies.