On the last track, we discussed the various forms of
isolation that male survivors of sexual abuse experience: isolation by others
and isolation of themselves.
As you know, between the ages
of 8 and 12, boys are building the personality traits they will call upon later
on in life. Sexual abuse warps and interrupts this process.
On this track, we
will address the idea of empowerment as the foundation for healing and how to
build it: through building a sense of responsibility and accountability; through
developing his understanding of his power and its limitations; and through equipping
the client with knowledge and empowering skills.
Importance of Empowerment
As you know, when a client is sexually abused,
he experiences a feeling of powerlessness. I believe that rebuilding a young boy's
feeling of empowerment is fundamental to his recovery process. If a boy does not
resolve his feelings of powerlessness, two results can occur:
(1) he will continue
to see himself as a helpless victim with very few behavioral options or
will try to regain power by controlling others through aggressive or abusive behaviors.
Craig, age 13, was already exhibiting the qualities of this last option known
as identifying with the aggressor. Craig was referred to me after he was caught
violently bullying children in his class during recess. His teacher relayed to
me that Craig would push his classmates into wooden playground equipment, some
of them suffering serious head injuries.
While in therapy, Craig revealed to me
that his step-father, Jerry, had been sexually abusing him for the past three
months. This abuse consisted of Jerry pushing Craig into walls. As you can see,
Craig was reenacting his abuse. By adapting the tactics of his abuser, Craig was
trying to overcome his feelings of powerlessness.
Responsibility and Accountability
I. The First Step
As you know, the first step in rebuilding
a client's sense of healthy or positive power is by rebuilding responsibility
and accountability. Craig needed to recognize when choices are available, choose
an alternative, and follow through on that alternative. To do this, I made sure
that I involved Craig in all of the following: setting up the assessment appointment;
developing the rules that we both would follow during treatment; planning his
treatment; determining the extent and type of his participation in each session;
and deciding when to leave therapy. I also encouraged Craig to make important
decisions in his everyday life.
#3 Helping Clients Understand
Power and Limitations
II. The Second Step
The second step in rebuilding a client's sense of
healthy or positive power is by developing an understanding of power and its limitations.
Craig needed to recognize that the limitations on his power stemmed from the fact
that he was a child, and children are not responsible for the decisions of others.
However, I reiterated to Craig that he could exercise power by choosing whether
to develop his own ideas or to accept the ideas of others.
Each session, discussed
with Craig the various ways he controlled his environment since I last saw him.
Craig stated, "This week, Kevin [his friend at school] told me that he wasn't
my friend anymore and I didn't hit him. I told him that I still wanted to be his
friend and talked to him with words. And now we're friends still." By expressing
and controlling his surroundings not through violent actions but through a mature
verbal expression of emotions, Craig was already exhibiting his ability to regain
power through healthy and positive means.
III. Third Step
In addition to rebuilding responsibility
and understanding limitations of power, in addition to responsibility and accountability;
and understanding of power and its limitations; the third step for Craig in recovering
a sense power was by equipping himself with knowledge and skills. The use of knowledge
and skills helped Craig recognize more options in situations and easing his feelings
of helplessness. Craig realized that being powerful did not mean controlling others.
To aid him in realizing this, I found the following "Self Evaluation"
you know, boys of Craig's age are unaware of the effects his abuse is having on
his development. To help him, I used the Therapy Strategy of "Self Evaluation"
to analyze these effects and to initiate discussion. I asked Craig to make check
marks next to the statements that best describe how he feels.
The statements that
Craig checked off included:
I feel different from other people
because of the abuse.
- I'm filled with anger.
- I'm afraid a lot of the time.
- My moods change all the time.
- I can't control much of anything now.
- I can't
seem to get along with other kids anymore.
The rest of the
Self Evaluation Questions are found in the back of your manual that accompanies
this Home Study Course.
A summary of his responses is as follows:
think the way my step-father treated me made me feel like I had to hurt other
kids. I really want to change. I really want to have better friends and not feel
like I have to control them with hurtful actions. I know now that the abuse happened
because Jerry made a bad decision and it didn't happen because I was bad or deserved it."
Now that Craig could finally pinpoint the reasons
he has been trying to violently control his classmates, he is taking the initial
steps towards addressing these impulses. Craig was starting to gain some insight
into his feeling of helplessness stemming from his step-father's behavior and
not his own inherent weakness.
On this track, we discussed
the idea of empowerment as the foundation for healing and how to build it: through
building a sense of responsibility and accountability; through developing his
understanding of his power and its limitations; and through equipping the client
with knowledge and empowering skills.
On the next track, we
will examine some criteria which indicates individual therapy rather than group
therapy: undisclosed personal information about the sexual abuse; assault by a
stranger; and if group therapy would be an unnecessarily stressful situation.
What are three ways that can rebuild a client's sense of empowerment?
To select and enter your answer go to .