We are seeing an influx of children coming into treatment in numbers that historically have been much lower. Education about mental health difficulties, changes in attitudes about therapy from the aftermath of 9/11 and a general acceptance of therapy as a consultation for healthy people going through challenges are some of the forces that have led to the change. Whatever the reason, it allows children to work through issues previously carried to adulthood before being resolved, or perhaps never being addressed. We can help recover trauma earlier, and avoid the pain of keeping it locked away for years.
One out of every four girls, and one out of ten boys are sexually molested by age 18. Most often the perpetrator is known, sometimes a family member or friend of the family. A child may or may not tell. They often feel ashamed or responsible, even though they are the victim and not at fault. Depending on whether or not they disclose and how it is received if they do their lives will take significantly different paths.
Many victims want to deny it ever occurred, at least emotionally. They may feel or say “I just want to forget about it”, “if I don’t think about it it will just go away”, or “It’s over”. Unfortunately, it often does not work that way.
For a number of clients I work with a trigger- whether it be a sound, smell, something they saw or heard- a trigger that they may or may not identify leads to a sense of fear or terror, sadness or depression and they may not know why. They may regress; act in ways such as wetting the bed or thumb sucking that they stopped at an earlier age. They may have nightmares, be clingy or not want to go to certain people or places. They need to be listened to, and the issue explored.
Their feelings or memories of what occurred may seem as a blur. Memories don’t come all at once. If and when they do they need to be addressed, with support, knowledge and love. When memories do surface, it is not unusual for a child (or a parent first) to call me to discuss the traumatic event and resultant feelings.
Treatment is helping the child to work through their history, at their own pace. I do not dig, the child has the control. If they do not want to talk about it, then we don’t. Yes means yes and no means no. Therapy will not be another person forcing their will on the child. We connect the triggers and the feelings, and help work through the feelings. I have found that hypnosis has been a tremendous tool to help the child address anxiety, express and release their stuffed feelings and heal.
Hypnosis, unlike stage hypnosis, is more like deep relaxation. A child or adult is not out cold, they understand what is occurring, and have the ability to stop and get up if they wish. They cannot be made to do anything against their will. What hypnosis does allow is an ability to recall and enter a state of relaxation we went through in hypnosis when we need it later on just by touching two fingers together like we did in session. It allows us to develop and practice tools that stop panic attacks, and helps us feel better about ourselves. It allows us to release the feelings, and then to heal and love that child within that went through the pain and let he or she know it wasn’t their fault.
Therapists working with trauma, especially sexual abuse and especially with children should have had considerable experience with the work and clients. Not every therapist is skilled with or competent in this area. One must have training and specialize in it. I have repeatedly followed therapists that were ill equipped to address these issues and have been ineffective and sometimes harmful, re victimizing the victim. Insurance company lists, organizations such as the American Academy of Traumatic Stress/National Center for Crisis Management (http://www.aaets.org) have lists as well to help identify treatment providers.
Whatever the resource, there is no substitute for interviewing the provider. I am often asked by parents of my victims about my background and experience, and experience with treating children and sexually abuse children. It is given freely, as a parent I would do the same .Treatment is a commitment by the therapist to be there for the child, help them,