When reviewing directories or referral lists for clinical providers, be sure to check whether the clinician has experience working with issues related to sexual victimization and trauma. You should also inquire about the clinician’s experience and level of expertise in working particularly with male sexual victimization. If you are a sexual or gender diverse individual, a person of color, or if you have any aspects of your identity that has significant importance to you (e.g., religion, culture, life experiences, etc.) you may also want to inquire about those considerations.
Do not be bashful as you screen for a therapist with whom you might want to work. You are the person who is seeking a service; whether you are a survivor or ally, you deserve the most competent service. Included here is a list of sample questions you might use to screen a provider and to guide you to make a comfortable selection.
Consider both the content of the provider’s response as well as how he or she responds to your questions. If you have never been in therapy before, you may want to consider interviewing or meeting with more than one therapist so you can observe the differences and pay attention to what feels like a good “fit” and feels safe enough for you.
Psychotherapy with survivors of sexual victimization is both an art and a skill. The goal of successful healing is to expand the survivor’s experiences of meaning, empowerment, and connection. Dependency upon a provider should not be a goal in therapy. It is the task of the clinical provider to facilitate you being a strong survivor, not a fragile victim, and to do this with support and skill. It is important that the provider exhibit acceptance and respect for aspects of your identity that are important to you.
The most effective healing is accomplished if you find a clinician with whom you can establish a solid, productive, and collaborative working relationship. Carefully evaluate your impressions and reactions during the initial sessions of meeting with a provider. Consider whether they exhibit authenticity; do they genuinely listen, and are they emotionally present. A therapeutic relationship is most productive when it is based on earned trust, compassionate engagement, healthy boundaries, and mutual respect.
Considerations of safety may be integral to your healing; be considerate about whether the provider you are choosing to work with feels “safe enough” for you to be authentic and fully engaged. 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. Agreement may not always be possible, but healthy disagreement protects authenticity and safe vulnerability. 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.
There is no general rule that a higher degree (MD or PhD vs. MSW or MHC) predicts more effective treatment or more successful outcome. Experience, clinical skill, and therapeutic engagement is generally more important than the letters of a degree. Also, competent clinicians are open to a wide range of modalities for helping you with your recovery. Do not settle for “one method fits all” approaches to healing. Consider the variety of modalities that might be responsive to your needs: Twelve Step work, mindfulness, art, dance, yoga, and spiritual work. Always remember that ethical methods for healing adheres to and protect the 2 pillars of principled psychotherapy: DO NO HARM and CLIENT SELF-DETERMINATION.
Recovery work with a therapist is a relationship based on earned trust, impeccable boundaries, and mutual respect. A psychotherapist must be engaged with you without letting their own feelings intrude on yours or for their own agenda to supersede your own. Empower yourself to express your concerns if anything about the relationship with your provider does not feel right and always retain the empowerment to search further if you need to make a change of provider.