Coping with Child Sexual Abuse in Adult Relationships, Part III

The Role of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy in counselling adult survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) has been shown to facilitate clients in dealing with elements of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that commonly follow the survivors into adult relationships.

The primary function of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is three fold; firstly to assist with calming and acting as safe guard as the brain responds in a ‘bottom up’ manner to the traumatic event ( Piaget 1952). That is to say the client is at the mercy of their somatic and kinaesthetic responses without cogent control over them and the role of the therapist is to harness and manage the clients experiences until such time as the client has re-established these differentiating lines; Secondly, to equip clients themselves with the necessary tools to deal with these abreactions and upsetting bodily responses and lastly to facilitate the reintegration of a ‘top down’ response, i.e. helping the client to retrain their responses to include a reasoned and logical response. (Pat Ogden and Kekuni Minton, 2000). Clients have also reported that through therapeutic relationship and the couple relationship sensorimotor psychotherapy helped them to limit the information they are processing at any one time;  giving them the opportunity to investigate the cognitive and emotional aspects of the  initial trauma without becoming so physically distressed as to prevent them from adequately doing so. As discussed in Coping with Child Sexual Abuse in Adult Relationships, Parts I and II, the role of the couple relationship is paramount in the rehabilitation of adult survivors of CSA, survivors of sexual abuse require safe and healing relationships from which recovery can most ably begin. (Courtois, Ford & Cloitre, 2009)

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy operates in a holistic way by attending to the physical, cognitive and emotional responses CSA provokes in its adult clients. By refocusing their attention away from the context and details of the original trauma and focusing instead of the bodily sensations in isolation form their context client have found they have been able to disassociate the physical reaction from the emotion and cognitive responses.

This gives rise to a feeling of safety that allows for the safe exploration of the cognitive and emotional impact of the abuse and furthermore may give rise to an increased feeling of safety as they begin to re-experience the trauma in a way that offers them the potential to physically protect themselves.  By adopting a sensorimotor psychotherapeutic approach and concentrating on the physical responses, we are directly dealing with the somatic effects on the body and this in turn helps enable emotional and cognitive assimilation of the traumatic experience

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