It is essential that you find a clinician who has experience working with the issues of sexual abuse. Some well meaning therapists believe that having a good heart is enough to do the work. It is extremely important, but it is only the first step. In fact, many therapists have done more damage simply relying on their intentions of good will. Therapists should be experienced professionals with specific training.

Here are some questions that might help you when you make your initial call.

  • What is their academic degree?
  • Does a Board license them? Which one?
  • How many years have they been providing therapy?
  • What are their experience treating survivors of sexual abuse?
  • How much experience do they have working with LGBT issues (if this is a consideration for you)?
  • Do they have supervision/consultation available to them?
  • Has a complaint ever been filed against them?
  • What is their fee? Billing or payment policy?
    • Do they offer services on a sliding scale?
    • Agencies can be helpful for a sliding scale fee structure. Be aware that many agencies may be field placements for graduate students or interns. If this is the case, it will be important that you know they have supervision from an experienced therapist.
  • What is their policy on cancellation or "no show"?
  • Do they charge for telephone consultation or calls between sessions?
  • What is their policy on confidentiality?

It is as important how the therapist answers the questions as what they say.

There is no general rule that the higher the degree (MD or PhD vs. MSW), the better the treatment. Experience and skill trump the amount of letters behind a name. There are many other avenues to the work of recovery that are vital to your journey: Twelve Step work, mindfulness, art, dance, yoga, and spiritual work. No matter what avenue you take, be aware that no one has the right to make the adherence to a philosophical or religious tenet a requirement for recovery.

Recovery work with a therapist is a relationship based on earned trust, impeccable boundaries, and mutual respect. A psychotherapist must be both genuine and emotionally present. In the case of recovery from sexual violation, this could not be more essential. They must understand how to be engaged without letting their own feelings intrude on yours or for their own agenda to supersede your own. You need the safety to be vulnerable and in the truth. Previously, that might not have been possible. So, you and the therapist may not always agree. In fact, if you have a good relationship, it will be important that you are free enough to disagree, or question, or simply say “no.”

In the past, it might have been difficult to differentiate between comfort and safety. Many survivors have come to feel quite comfortable in familiar but dangerous relationships. In fact, having a safe space may be a new, even confusing experience. Anyone who has been sexually victimized has had his or her boundaries ignored, violated or diminished. So contact, touch, personal space have never been negotiable. In the therapy room, a therapist should never cross the boundary of touch without permission. And, it is NEVER ever ok for the therapist to initiate or accept sexual contact.

 If you have depression, anxiety or other issues that may require medication, a psychiatrist can provide a prescription to alleviate the symptoms. But psychiatrists rarely do therapy. It will be important that you choose a psychotherapist and a psychiatrist that can work together so that they can be a team for your recovery.

After you have been in therapy with a particular individual, ask yourself:

  • Does my therapist listen to me?
  • Does he or she honor my silences?
  • Do I feel I can disagree with him/her?
  • How does the therapist handle crisis and conflict?
  • Is this person comfortable with the feelings and content I bring out?
  • Do I feel like it is unsafe to talk about sex, my abuse, or anything related to
  • my life, because I am concerned the therapist won’t be able to handle it?
  • Do I feel safe enough to be challenged in therapy as well as to be vulnerable?
  • Is there anything I need to check out before therapy can proceed any further?

Your therapist should be a trusted partner in your recovery. You have every right to find someone who will partner with you, challenge you to stretch your comfort zone and look more deeply, keep the supportive boundaries of safety and confidentiality, and help you be a courageous and powerful resilient woman who can connect with yourself and others in love, safety, and freedom.

It is time for taking back ourselves!