Sexual Assault Therapy - Handel Behavioral Health
HBH Treatment & Therapies

Sexual Assault Therapy

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An image of stairs that zig zags from dark colorless rock below to the top of the image which turns to color and a view of wild flower fields and a beautiful sky. A female is standing at the top looking out at the fields.

Amy Mauro

If you are a survivor of sexual assault or sexual abuse, know that you are far from alone. 

Research from the Centers for Disease Control shows that over half of women and almost 1 in 3 men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact within their lifetime.

About 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys in the United States experience child sexual abuse, though many children wait to report or never report child sexual assault.

“We know that the vast majority of sexual assault crimes are committed by someone known to the victim. Whether we know the perpetrator or not, it’s our responsibility to believe the victim.”

Robyn Veazie, MS

No matter how or when the sexual assault occurred, the survivor is never at fault. 

The survivors experience of abuse, and their response to the trauma they’ve been through is real and valid.

While the recovery process will look different for each individual, there are effective treatment services which are responsive to the range of needs that survivors of sexual assault may have along their healing journey. 

Our trained therapists, with experience counseling survivors of sexual assault, offer a safe and confidential space for survivor’s to discuss their experiences, process their trauma, and heal physically, mentally, and emotionally. To provide comprehensive care, our therapists will connect individuals and families affected by sexual assault with resources for immediate and long-term support. 

Whether you’re looking for a therapist to work with online in the state of Massachusetts, or in-person in our offices in Amherst, Springfield, Wilbraham, Natick, or Franklin, we’re here to guide you toward self healing and restoration.

To schedule an appointment with one of our trained therapists, please call us at (413) 343-4357.

To learn more about what sexual assault is, and what therapy for sexual assault involves, please read on.

If you are experiencing a crisis related to sexual assault or abuse, please get in touch with the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAIIN) at 1-800-656-4673 or use the  free online chat. They are available 24/7.

What is sexual assault?

According to RAIIN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), sexual assault refers to any form of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without clear consent of the victim.

Forms of sexual assault can involve: 

  • Attempted rape
  • Fondling or unwanted sexual touching
  • Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts: oral sex or penetrating the victim’s body
  • Penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape

Force does not only involve physical force, but includes manipulation, coercion, threats, and situations where a person is unable to give consent.

What Are The Impacts of Sexual Assault?

As with most traumatic experiences, every survivor of sexual assault will have unique physical and psychological responses to the abuse. The effects of trauma can be short-term or long-lasting after the sexual assault. 

The following list of responses is not exhaustive but survivors can experience: 

1. Depression

Survivors are likely to feel sad, unhappy, and hopeless after experiencing sexual assault. When these feelings continue for an extended period of time, the survivor might have developed depression. Depression is a serious mental health condition, and help is always available.

2. Isolation

“Isolation often shows up for survivors of sexual assault. They might start to avoid their families or communities because they believe that the abuse was their fault. They also might find it difficult to trust other people, as well as themselves, after the experience.”

Robyn Veazie, MS

3. Shame 

Survivors might blame themselves after experiencing rape or any other form of sexual assault. They might feel guilty or ashamed for the abuse.

4. Somatic Symptoms 

The fear and anxiety of the sexual assault survivor may lead to somatic (body) complaints, eating disturbances which can lead to eating disorders, difficulty concentrating, and physical symptoms related to areas on the body affected by assault. 

“Survivors may seek out experiences that provide more intense physical sensations like self-harm. They might be trying to numb the pain, feel a release, or gain a sense of control over their body.”

Robyn Veazie, MS

5. Substance Use Problems

It’s common for people who have experienced sexual assault to use alcohol and drugs to numb the emotional pain, shame, guilt, and fear they feel. Through working with a mental health professional, the survivor can learn healthy coping strategies to handle triggers and feel comfortable in their own skin. 

6. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Survivors of sexual assault might develop an anxiety disorder after the traumatic event, called PTSD. PTSD often develops if the survivor felt that their life was in danger during the assault. 

According to RAINN, PTSD symptoms may include but are not limited to:

  • Re-experiencing: feeling like you are re-experiencing the event: flashbacks, dreams, intrusive thoughts
  • Avoidance: intentionally or subconsciously changing your behavior to avoid situations associated with the event, disinterest in previously enjoyable activities 
  • Hyper-arousal: always feeling “on edge,” difficulty sleeping, easily startled, sudden outbursts
  • Flashbacks

There is no right or wrong way for survivors to respond to sexual assault or abuse. With proper support, the survivor can learn to identify their reactions, develop adaptive coping strategies, and heal through their trauma.

What Can Therapy for Sexual Assault Involve?

“My therapeutic approach for working with survivors of sexual assault is always dependent on what the client wants and needs. Not every client will be ready or willing to do the same therapeutic work. Many survivors just want to know that they were right and the person who committed the crime is wrong.”

Robyn Veazie, MS

Psychosocial Assessment: 

The first phase of counseling for sexual assault and abuse survivors typically involves a psychosocial assessment. The assessment will cover the client’s familial, medical, and work-related history, as well as current and past mental health issues. This part of counseling focuses on building trust between the therapist and client, and facilitating a space that feels supportive and safe. 

Higher levels of support: 

“With adult survivors of sexual assault, I always encourage them to contact a Rape Crisis Counselor (RCC) right away. If the survivor decides to get a sexual assault exam, the RCC can support them at the hospital during the exam. They’ll be able to assist and advocate for the survivor to connect them to long-term care services, legal services, and support groups.”

Robyn Veazie, MS

“I’ll always provide clients with important resources to know about if they decide to seek medical attention and/or if they are considering reporting the crime. A Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) is a registered nurse who is trained and able to conduct a forestic exam and may provide testimony if the client decides to report the crime.”

Robyn Veazie, MS

The following therapeutic modalities can help survivors process and heal from their sexual assault: 

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Survivors of sexual assault often struggle with unhealthy thoughts and beliefs sorrounding their traumatic experience(s). With CBT, the survivor will learn how to identify their negative thoughts, and challenge unhelpful beliefs. In turn, they will learn how to develop healthier thought patterns and behaviors that enrich their lives. 

  1. Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT): 

“I’ll use Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) when I’m working with children and teens who are healing from trauma, and their caretakers. It’s a short-term therapeutic modality designed to help survivors cope with their trauma, and help caregivers understand how to best support their child. 

 Robyn Veazie, MS

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) involves multiple approaches: 

  • Psychoeducation: teaching the survivor about the normal reactions to traumatic experiences to help reduce feelings of guilt and shame for what happened
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: helping the survivor learn to identify thoughts and perceptions that create distorted and unhelpful views, and learning to replace them with clear and helpful thoughts 
  • Trauma narration and processing: safely and slowly revisiting and processing the details of the traumatic event(s), with the goal of reducing triggers and calming emotional/physical activity
  • Coping Skills: relaxation techniques like mindfulness/meditation, deep breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, identifying and redirecting unwanted thoughts 

“I like to use the five sense technique with clients: identifying five things they can see, four things they can feel, three things they can hear, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste or one thing they love about themselves. It’s a creative way for clients to redirect their focus from the traumatic memories and into the present moment.”

Robyn Veazie, MS

  • Caregiver Involvement: rebuilding trust between the child and caregiver and helping the caregiver learn how to be a supportive resource for their child

“Parents and caregivers involvement is essential to address the child survivor’s emotional and behavioral difficulties from the trauma. I’ll help parents identify and learn to challenge their own thoughts about the situation with more accurate and helpful ones. I’ll emphasize positive parenting techniques, and helpful child-parent interactions.”

  Robyn Veazie, MS

  1. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a trauma-therapy which focuses on the survivor’s memory of the event, and is intended to change the way the memory is stored in their brain. 

It uses back-and-forth eye movements or a bilateral (left/right) stimulation to help process triggering memories related to trauma. During EMDR therapy, the therapist will help the survivor tap into old memories and successfully process them, changing how they are stored in the survivors brain. 

With time, the survivor can become more desensitized to the traumatic memories surrounding their sexual assault.

It’s important to know that there are many different therapies which can treat survivors of sexual assault. Depending on the survivor’s personal situation, background, and wants and needs, the therapist will determine which treatments are most appropriate.

Connecting Survivors to Sexual Assault Resources:

In addition to working with a mental health professional, survivors of sexual assault can find support through connecting with national and community-based sexual assault support groups, including: 

The Take-Away

Coping with sexual assault or sexual abuse can feel extremely difficult at times, but there is hope for survivors to process their trauma, heal from it, and move forward in their lives. 

If you or your loved one is a survivor of sexual assault or sexual abuse, our mental health professionals are here to support you. 

Our therapists offer in-person therapy from our offices in Amherst, West Springfield, Franklin, Natick, and Wilbraham. Many of our therapists also offer online counseling throughout the state of Massachusetts.

Contact us today at (413) 343-4357 or request an appointment online!

About The Author

Nettie Hoagland Headshot

Nettie Hoagland is a writer with experience in local news reporting, nonprofit communications, and community development. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. Nettie believes in the healing power of the arts to create connection and community. She is passionate about using writing as an instrument for personal and social growth in the field of mental health. She is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.

Robyn Veazie Headshot

Robyn earned her Master’s degree from Bay Path University in September 2021 and then received her Bachelor’s degree in Forensic Psychology from Bay Path University in 2018. Robyn has a diverse working experience that includes child and families, trauma focused therapy with children and adults, substance abuse, and mental health treatment within an outpatient and in-home setting. More About Author →