My Recovery From Being Sexually Abused By Six Men Can Be an Example to Others

My adult clients usually made their first request for help to their GP. Often they would tell me how they received little empathy, with doctors casually dismissing the experience as a childhood event and something that shouldn't bother them anymore.

I was just two years old when six men, five of whom were members of my family, sexually abused me over the next decade.

Throughout my youth - and early adulthood - I was left struggling with anxiety and terribly low self-esteem. I was plagued by an inability to form trusting relationships.

During the 1970s, when I was in my thirties and first decided I had to find help, there was almost no awareness about how such a vicious childhood experience as mine could reap such long-term damage on a person's mental health. There were certainly no appropriate therapists.

Thankfully, progress has been achieved. The case of Jimmy Savile served to highlight the lasting damage done to young victims alongside the shift in societal attitudes that allowed them to finally speak out and be believed.

Last week's 'Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week' further represents an important step along the seemingly never-ending road towards society acknowledging such acts and moving to prevent them. This context in which people can voice their experience is vital.

But for me an equally pressing question is how can people recover from childhood sexual abuse?

The reality for victims is that access to therapies is limited, as recognised in a report last November by the child sex abuse survivors' charity One in Four.

Having developed a treatment model based on my own recovery, I have now been a therapist treating people with trauma and sexual abuse for more than 35 years.

My adult clients usually made their first request for help to their GP. Often they would tell me how they received little empathy, with doctors casually dismissing the experience as a childhood event and something that shouldn't bother them anymore.

Sharing the experience of sexual abuse with anybody requires courage, and such a response can be a devastating knock back.

As the One in Four report stated, long-term health conditions, mental health problems, eating disorders and drug abuse can be associated with childhood sexual abuse. But because survivors live with shame and fear, abuse is rarely uncovered as the root cause and many people don't get appropriate support.

One woman I worked with had suffered abuse at the hands of her uncle when she was four. Forty years on she was still riddled with guilt, shame and depression.

She was hyper-vigilant, couldn't sleep without locking her bedroom door, and was so overwhelmed with anxiety that she had up to 100 panic attacks a night. She became a workaholic to suppress her feelings.

Her desperate search for treatment resulted in her flying 15,000kms from Australia to register on one of my treatment programs.

Another obstacle is that many individuals working therapeutically with childhood abuse survivors still use standard counselling models that are lengthy and have minimal effectiveness. It often takes months or years to make small steps forward.

Some therapies require clients to tell their sexual abuse story over and over, believing the person's pain will dull from repetition. All that time, clients are continuing to suffer the effects of their abusive experiences, affecting themselves, their family, the community and society as a whole.

While there are other therapeutic models, e.g. cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which don't require one to 'drag up' past trauma, their drawback is that resolution i.e. full recovery is not the goal.

CBT's aim, for example, is to teach coping skills to deal with problems left from abuse. My belief is fundamentally different, primarily because I did find a route to recovery.

Because appropriate support wasn't available to me, I took a self-help path. I read books and followed my instincts about what felt right and what worked.

For example, I remember thinking 'if only I could have told someone'. So I tried doing just this, asking my younger self to write to me about what happened.

Being that listening ear and believing myself as a little girl started to turn things around for me. I wrote helpful information back to her and also wrote a 'rescue scene'. Finally, I started to feel less anxious and more comfortable with myself.

Over time, I found visualisation a more powerful tool to change that little girl's beliefs that she was worthless and to blame. But what was the landmark point when I could say for certain that I'd recovered? It was when I could think about my childhood events and it didn't hurt anymore.

Everything I had learnt - and without any therapeutic training - I formalised into a model of therapy for sexual abuse, which I called PICT (Parks Inner Child Therapy).

What is unique about PICT is that it focuses on the psychological effects of abuse, so that full disclosure and talking through the abuse itself is not crucial. PICT is gentle, thorough, rapid and lasting. It allows survivors to recover, resolve their feelings and live a life unaffected by the trauma of sexual abuse - that's the difference between PICT and most other therapies.

Awareness of the effects of sexual abuse is a starting block. But I long for the day when everyone who has been affected by such misery can have a route to recovery.

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