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
In my practice at Midwest Counselling, of the many long-lasting impacts child sexual abuse (C.S.A.) and one of the most prominent is the difficulty for adult survivors of C.S.A. to maintain healthy fulfilling couple relationships. The merits of focusing on the role the partner has in this recovery is becoming more and more apparent (The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 2012) as too is the value of using a multidisciplinary approach (Ibid). For many therapists the focus of the therapy is the healing process for the traumatised individual rather than looking at the potential healing opportunities provided by a safe and trusting couple relationship. Furthermore, in many situations it is a couple who have presented with relationship, intimacy or sexual issues stemming from CSA and are looking for help from within dynamic of the relationship; and so the work of treating CSA needs to take place within a couples counselling paradigm.
Ignoring the impact of CSA on adult relationship or focusing only on the survivor of CSA or ignoring the role the other partner can play may limit the healing opportunities within the therapeutic relations and can level the client feeling let down or dissatisfied particularly if you are working within the confines of couples counselling. Similarly it is a well-established consensus within the psychotherapeutic and counselling communities that treatment of complex trauma, especially with regard to CSA that survivors of sexual abuse require safe and healing relationships from which recovery can most ably begin. (Courtois, Ford & Cloitre, 2009)
While this notion had generally been accepted to apply to the therapeutic relationship, it is important not to overlook the restorative opportunities and potential offered from with the confines of existing couple relations; especially when the clients have expressed a desire to work on and improve the sexual contact, intimacy or other aspects of their relations. If, as we can all agree, healing takes place in moments of secure attachment (Solomon, 2003) then the opportunity provided for healing within the current couple relationship is a vital and dynamic opportunity that ought not to be overlooked.
As per the attachment theory the security of the existing couple relationship (as well as the security of the therapeutic relationship) can allow the therapist to encourage the client to explore the trauma and its impact from a safe place.
In using this approach is it also important to recognise the frequency with which one finds that if one partner bring to the relationship a history of CSA, then the other partner will bring problems of equal measure, often, though not necessarily always, sexual abuse. Therefore it may very well be the case that as a therapist you may find yourself treating not one, but two separate victims of traumatic childhood or early life experiences.
Is it any wonder that the third Monday in January has been awarded the dubious honour of being called Blue Monday – the most depressing day in the year?
The resolution to begin a lifestyle overhaul got postponed till all the Quality Street were finished, the exercise regime is impossible in the dark and wet… and sure you can’t quit smoking when it’s this gloomy out?? Hardly inspiring stuff, is it?
Putting a little balance back into our lives is really what these resolutions are about and are a big help in finding a bit of peace for 2013.
Take 10 mins and look at your life in terms of 8 different categories and try to (honestly) give each one a rating out of 10 – if you’re falling below 5 in any of the areas it may be time to take a look at it and see what can be done.
Personal growth/spirituality (religion, interests, hobbies,)
Set yourself reasonable and attainable goals and as always feel free to fail and start again.
Best of Luck and Happy New Year!
If you feel you many benefit from talking to someone,
Financial strain is probably one of the biggest causes of stress, especially in today’s economy and is only getting worse. With so many losing their jobs, cutbacks and tax increases just trying to make ends meet can cause immense stress to already stressful lives.
This year’s budget has promised to be tougher and more hard-hitting and may cause many of us to despair, panic and fear for the future.
If the stress and worry is becoming too much or if you feel you many benefit from talking to someone, please feel free to call me on 087 709 74 77 or email me in confidence at email@example.com