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Section 5
Stages of Recovery from Childhood Sexual Trauma

CEU Question 5 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Child Abuse
Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, MFT CEUs

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On the last track we reviewed the secondary consequences of panic attacks, body objectification, chronic fatigue and minor illnesses.

On this track, we will discuss an overview of the three stages of recovery which are discovery, active healing, and integration. At the end of this track, we will look at the Family Mottos Technique.

3 Stages of Recovery

Stage 1: Discovery
As you know, recovery from childhood sexual abuse requires feeling the pain, releasing it and allowing the pain to lessen in its intensity and power. Let's begin by looking at the first stage of recovery, the Discovery Stage which Christy described as "putting the pieces of the puzzle together". Christy, age 16, remembered being sexually abused by her cousin, Nick when she was 7. She didn't realize its effect on her.

When discussing her memories and the feelings Christy associated with the abuse, she stated, "When I focus on that time in my life, you know, the abuse and the pain, it hurts! And well it is like meeting a long lost part of myself. I want to understand why I act the way I do. "Why do I have sex with all these guys the first time we go out?" But trying to remember what happened with Nick hurts! Sometimes, I feel like I am going crazy! I can remember feeling dirty, but I can't remember exactly what happened. " As Christy worked through this Discovery Stage, she vacillated between denying her feelings she associated with the abuse and wanting to face those feelings head on.

Stage 2: Active Healing
The second stage of Active Healing moved Christy from focusing less and less on whether she was abused to what she could do to heal. This shift in focus allowed Christy to begin to get to know herself in a new way and find an approach she felt worked for her. She sought validation from other sexual abuse survivors by attending 12-step groups and continuing therapy. As you know, denial is tricky, but Christy was able to receive validation from others who had shared in similar abuse situations, establish personal and learning self-nurturance.

How do you move your Christy from the Discovery Stage to the Active Healing Stage? This is obviously done at the client's own pace. Is your Christy connected with an ongoing support group?

Stage 3: Integration
As you are aware, the final stage of Integration can bring freedom as your client begins to view his or her history of sexual abuse as one of many events that have shaped their life. The abuse began to no longer controlled Christy's feelings and actions. She began to reevaluate her promiscuity. It is at this point Christy was beginning to be able to recognize the healing that she was experiencing and recognize her progress. I find the Family Mottos' Technique one method that facilitated Christy's reclaiming of her feelings, her history and gaining a feeling of empowerment.

Family Motto Technique
Here is how the Family Motto Technique works. I asked the group to choose the expression their family used that held the strongest meaning for them individually.

First, I wrote examples on a flip chart of expressions. These included:

1. Sayings like your grandfather may have said, "The early bird gets the worm"
2. Advice like your mother may have said, "Never tell anything you wouldn't want to swear to in court."
3. Philosophical like your father may have said, "What they don't know won't hurt them."
4. Cursing like your step-father may have said, "Someday when you have a kid, I hope he gives you as much trouble as you've given me."
5. Religious sayings like your mother may have said, "God loves unselfish people."
6. Warnings like your grandmother may have said, "If you keep making that face, it might freeze that way."

After I read this list followed by a brief discussion, I asked the group to add their own sayings, advice, philosophies, cursing, religious sayings, or warnings.

Second, from the compiled list of expressions, each group member chose the one that held the strongest significance for them.

The one that Christy stated held the most meaning for her was, the warning, "Who do you think you are?"

Finally, the group then discussed the expression as it was used in their past and how each participant felt about it now. We then discussed: What kind of approach to life does this saying demonstrate? What does your current reaction to the family motto make you want to do?

Christy stated:

"Remembering those words--'Who do you think you are?' Here is what comes to mind. I'm eating my cereal and trying to tell my Dad my latest great idea, a plan to take the dance class I want, by selling a neighborhood newsletter. Over his newspaper, he shoots a look at me, shoots me down: 'Who do you think you are, a businesswoman? That won't work.' I've heard these words before, but my cornflakes taste like wood chips.I can taste the flatness right now; feel the hopelessness in my muscles. Today, that forget-it attitude enrages me. I want to go out and prove to the old man that I'm capable and successful. I'd really like to do it just for myself."

Christy spoke with marked anger in her voice.

Writing those words-"who do you think you are?" --brought back resentment for Christy. "If my Dad had only noticed me, I thought, and then I felt sad as well as angry. The anger still gets in my way when someone resists one of my ideas at school. I feel awful when someone turns my offer for help down. I feel like I am still trying to get noticed and to prove how good I can be."

Your Christy may find strong memories and feelings associated with Family Mottos that still affect her approach to life. Think about your Christy. How might she benefit from understanding her strong memories and feelings associated with family mottos that still affect her approach to life?

This track has presented a brief overview of the three stages of recovery. These stages are discovery, active healing, and integration. In releasing the pain associated with childhood sexual abuse we also looked at how the Family Mottos Technique can offer opportunities to understanding influences from the past.

On the next track, we will discuss other "Windows to the Past".

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Ferrajão, P. C., & Elklit, A. (2020). World assumptions and posttraumatic stress in a treatment-seeking sample of survivors of childhood sexual abuse: A longitudinal study. Psychology of Violence, 10(5), 501–508. 

Herman, J. L., & Schatzow, E. (1987). Recovery and verification of memories of childhood sexual trauma. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 4(1), 1–14.

Jones, T. M., Bottoms, B. L., & Stevenson, M. C. (2020). Child victim empathy mediates the influence of jurors’ sexual abuse experiences on child sexual abuse case judgments: Meta-analyses. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Advance online publication.

Karlsson, M. E., Zielinski, M. J., & Bridges, A. J. (2020). Replicating outcomes of Survivors Healing from Abuse: Recovery through Exposure (SHARE): A brief exposure-based group treatment for incarcerated survivors of sexual violence. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(3), 300–305.

Roth, S., & Newman, E. (1992). The role of helplessness in the recovery process for sexual trauma survivors. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science / Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 24(2), 220–232.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 5
What types of information might be used in the Family Motto exercise with your client who is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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