truly patient counselor can be like an expertly
skilled doctor who performs a miraculous surgery
on the wounded soul of the sexual abuse survivor.”
The Role of a Sexual Abuse Counselor
What does a sexual abuse counselor do? He helps the sexual abuse survivor put the pieces of his/her painful memories of the past together. By facing these memories, the counselor hopes to help the survivor feel the emotions that have been locked away, and learn that the abuse was not her fault. The hope is also that the survivor will then come to a place of forgiveness with the offenders in her life. As the counselor helps the survivor walk through these steps the survivor is able to achieve a sense of peace, attain a new-found sense of empowerment, and finally learn to live in the present.
Sexual abuse counselors should be prepared to work with all types of people. In a study done by Noemi Pereda, et al called “The prevalence of child sexual abuse in community and student samples: a meta-analysis”. (Walker, Bonner, & Kaufman, 1988), she says, “…child abuse is a historical constant that occurs in all cultures and societies and at any social level.” Therefore, counselors who work with survivors of sexual abuse will work with a cross-section of the population. Also, sexual abuse counselors can expand their practices to work with spouses, partners, significant others, friends, or family members of the survivor, as they are often times the key support people in the survivor’s life.
Sexual abuse counselors work in a variety of different settings throughout the community including:
- Rape Crisis Centers
- Domestic Violence Agencies and Shelters
- Private Practice
- Correctional Facilities
- Substance Abuse and Alcohol Rehabilitation Centers
- Child Protective Agencies
- Veteran’s and Military Hospitals
Encountering Other Disorders
In making it in the field of sexual abuse recovery a counselor will encounter many common comorbid (co-occurring) disorders such as:
- Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Substance Abuse
- Eating Disorders
- Sexual Dysfunction
- Dissociative Identity Disorders (DID)
A bachelor’s degree in psychology, social work, or another related field would be a good first step to a career as a sexual abuse counselor.
- In order to work in the community as a sexual abuse counselor a masters’ degree in either community counseling or marriage and family counseling is required.
- Degrees must be from accredited institutions (CACREP and CORE) and will most often require 60 credits of coursework including 600-900 hours of internship and practicum placement hours. To date there is no special certification for the role of sexual abuse counselor, but almost every institution will offers specific electives dealing with family and domestic violence as well as child abuse prevention.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the estimated median income for mental health counselors is $41,880.
The licensing procedure varies by state but normally involves completion of the necessary coursework from an accredited institution, 1500-3000 (2-3 years) of fieldwork under a licensed and properly certified supervisor, and successful passage of the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) exam.
Licenses are not required to hold a job in every community institution. For instance, a public facility which may have trained certified staff members on board to oversee the counselor may be likely to hire without requiring an applicant to hold a license, however, those jobs normally tend to be the lower paying jobs. On a final note, in order to operate as a private practitioner, licensure is always required.
A Look at Therapeutic Methods Used
Regardless of the type of therapeutic approach a sexual abuse counselor chooses to use when working with a client one thing needs to remain a constant, and that is the style implemented by the therapist. There are key characteristics every sexual abuse counselor must have in order to be qualified to work with this particular clientele. These characteristics include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy. It has been the preferred approach of talk therapy when dealing in sexual abuse survivors for quite some time. CBT focuses on uncovering a person’s unhealthy thought patterns and working to replace those thought patterns with more positive and productive ways of thinking. CBT counselors often believe that it is not of great importance to recount all the memories of past trauma in order to effect positive healing. The goal of therapy is to try to encourage survivors to leave the “past in the past” and move ahead into a healthier place in the future.
The psychodynamic approach to therapy emphasizes uncovering the hidden secrets buried away in the unconscious mind. Counselors who subscribe to the psychodynamic approach usually believe that the key to healing from the past trauma is centered on delving into the heart of the memories themselves and allowing for the expression of long suppressed emotions. This therapeutic approach may take some time to complete, but if done right, can prove extremely effective at restoring a sense of peace and tranquility to the sexual abuse survivor’s life.
Many other methods may be used by sexual abuse counselors as aids in the healing process such as:
- Art Therapy
- Play Therapy
- Guided Imagery
- EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
Overcoming Sexual Abuse Through Spirituality
Perhaps one of the most significant new developments in therapeutic approaches when working with survivors of sexual abuse is the introduction of a “spiritual” perspective. Understandably so, most survivors of sexual abuse have mixed feelings about God, religion, a higher power in general, because of the terrible things they have had to endure. Additionally, in many circumstances, as a result of his past, a survivor may find himself separated from his family of origin or other key people in his life, so this need for a sense of spirituality, or connection to a higher power, is so very important, and a counselor can be instrumental in helping a survivor heal the broken spiritual bonds caused by the trauma he experienced.
The Desperate Need for Sexual Abuse Counselors
- Sexual abuse has reached epidemic proportions
in our society today. According to a national survey
of adult men and women conducted by David Finkelhor, et al,
it was found that 27% of women and 16% of men reported
a history of sexual abuse. (Finkelhor D)
- According to the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault
sexual abuse/incest “remains one of the most under-reported
crimes in our nation”, therefore victims/survivors of these heinous
crimes are suffering in silence and desperately need the help
of a trusted professional who can guide them through the
healing process. (“Alliance: Factsheets: Incest”)
- We live in a society in which the topic of sexual abuse/incest
is seen as taboo, and therefore even counselors who are
well-trained in many other areas of counseling find that they are
uncomfortable and unknowledgeable when it comes to treating
survivors of sexual abuse.
- According to the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault
over 80% of survivors of sexual abuse also had a history of substance
abuse, 50% had suicidal thoughts, 23% attempted suicide, almost 70%
received psychological treatment, and 31% had violently victimized
others. (“Alliance: Factsheets: Incest”)
- “Alliance: Factsheets: Incest”. Svfreenyc.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 2 June 2016.
- Finkelhor D, et al. “Sexual Abuse In A National Survey Of Adult Men And Women: Prevalence, Characteristics, And Risk Factors. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2016. Web. 7 June 2016.
- “Licensure Requirements”. Counseling.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 6 June 2016.
- Pilkington, Bridget and John Kremer. “A Review Of The Epidentiological Research On Child Sexual Abuse. Community And
- College Student Samples”. Child Abuse Rev. 4.2 (1995): 84-98. Web.