EMDR & Other Treatment Options For Healing From Sexual Assault

Sexual trauma is a crisis – and as human beings, we all interpret crises differently. Potential psychological ramifications of sexual trauma include emotional avoidance, numbness and disassociation, anxiety, and depression, all of which often come shadowed by a base sense of guilt and shame.

But while, as human beings, we're all different, we're also all entitled to a chance to heal and grow from our trauma. That's where sexual assault therapy comes in. Therapy is often the first step on the road to recovery, and rebuilding the totality of your life.

Learn more about types of sexual assault therapy, particularly Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and how it can help you starting healing in as little as a few sessions.

There are various therapy options for survivors of sexual assault

These trauma-focused therapies may use different techniques, but they all help the survivor process what has happened and move forward in health.  

Effective therapies for sexual assault trauma include:

All sexual assault therapy types have the same goal

I believe that the overarching goal of therapy for someone who has experienced sexual assault is to help the individual acknowledge what has happened without re-living the trauma all over again, and to facilitate the integration of the trauma into autobiographical memory.

There is more than one way to reach that goal, and different therapists will have experience and training in different techniques.  

Sexual assault therapy establishes safety and stability first; everything else comes after

What all effective therapies for sexual assault trauma should have in common is that they will establish stability and safety first, teach strategies to manage trauma symptoms, maintain emotional stability, and help the patient build a healthy social support network.  

Another important part of trauma therapy involves helping the patient move past faulty beliefs, and restore a healthy outlook on life.

EMDR is one of the most effective treatments for sexual assault trauma  

EMDR is an evidence-based treatment for trauma and distressing memories. It is a very effective treatment for sexual assault trauma, as it can effectively help with visceral physical and emotional memories, even when the patient has a hard time expressing those memories in words.

How EMDR works  

The therapy involves focusing on specific parts of the memory – which could be things like images, beliefs, emotions, or sensations, while the therapist administers several sets of bilateral movements.  

These bilateral movements are basically alternating stimuli going back and forth between your left and right side.  Eye movements, alternating sounds, or hand-held “tappers” are the most common methods.

With the therapist’s guidance, the distressing emotions, memories, physical sensations, and beliefs associated with the trauma are fully metabolized, helping the patient to feel less pain and distress.  

EMDR can be effective in as little as one session – but the weight of its impact depends on a number of factors

The healing effects of EMDR can start from the first session or two, and usually gain momentum after several sessions.

However, the healing effects can vary depending on a variety of factors. For example, the treatment process will be different for someone seeking EMDR for a recent, single traumatic incident versus someone seeking treatment for multiple traumas experienced over the course of time.

Looking for an EMDR therapist? Prioritize personal fit

Regardless of their specialization (such as EMDR), finding the right therapist is a subjective process.

You want someone who you feel comfortable with, and someone who you feel is capable of helping you. An initial phone consult, followed up by a couple of in-person sessions will usually give you a good sense of whether it is the right match.  

So as with all therapy types, if you are interested in EMDR therapy, the process is the same. First, find a therapist that you’re comfortable with (a concept known as the therapeutic alliance). Let them know that you’re interested in EMDR; and then you and the therapist will work together to ensure that you’re both a good fit, and that EMDR is an appropriate treatment for you.

You don't have to go at this alone. Working with a trauma-informed therapist for sexual assault can help you overcome related symptoms that might start, or already be, impacting your daily life – such as anxiety, flashbacks, dissociation, and depression – to lessen their impact, and find help without judgement.