by Brenda J Titus, MS, CH
Before I came to the field of hypnosis, I worked in a rape crisis center for 15 years. During that time, I assisted victims of sexual assault and adult survivors of sexual abuse in both one on one and group environments. I assisted them through various phases of their healing- from immediately after the assault, through the investigation and prosecution of the crime. I also worked with many clients years after they were victimized, providing short term counseling and support. Because of my background in working with this population, I have a unique perspective on ways that the abuse can impact clients lives and how hypnosis can aid those who have been victimized in this way.
As hypnotists, we work with “normal everyday people with normal everyday problems.” However, sometimes our normal everyday clients come to us with problems that may feel like more than the hypnotist is prepared to deal with. A common concern that I have seen among newer hypnotists is how to deal with clients who report histories of sexual abuse. Some hypnotists may shy away from this topic. Perhaps it is out of their comfort zone or they do not feel adequately prepared to assist. Some hypnotists may not want to work with these clients because of his or her own personal history. If they have not resolved their own feelings about their personal history, the hypnotist might not feel that they can help someone else or they may be fearful that the topic will bring up their own unresolved painful memories. Over the coming year, I plan to help hypnotists feel more confident with this topic. In this article, I will begin with an introduction of the topic and discuss how hypnotists can help clients who have experienced sexual abuse, both as a primary presenting issue and as an underlying factor in other issues like self esteem and weight loss. As the year progresses, I will discuss 5PATH® techniques, such as Age Regression and Forgiveness techniques, offering insights into how these techniques can aid this client population.
Intake and pre-hypnosis interview: How the hypnotist can help
As many as 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will be a victim of a sex crime at some point in their lifetime (see resources below). This means that a good portion of the population has experienced some sort of victimization, whether they come to see a hypnotist to specifically address this issue or not. In a recent review of my clients, I discovered that 25% of my clients to date have reported that they have been victims of sexual assault or abuse at some point in their lives. Only a small handful of those clients came to me specifically to deal with the impact of the abuse. You won’t always know before they walk in the door that abuse is part of their history, which is why it is important to be open and prepared to work with this population.
The response that an abuse/assault survivor receives when they tell someone about their abuse makes a strong impact on how they will cope with the abuse. If they feel judged or blamed for the assault, they might not seek additional support or help to overcome the assault. If they feel supported and validated, this will help aid them in getting the help that they need to recover emotionally and physically. This is true whether it is the same day, same week, or years later. When a client tells you that they have been sexually abused, whether you are the first person they’ve told or the fiftieth, the most important thing is to hear them out and be supportive. Unless you are doing forensic hypnosis (which is rare), you do not need to know the facts, so set your questions aside and let them tell you what they feel they need to tell. Most of my clients do not provide many details, and I know that I don’t need details to support them. I might ask for clarification about who was involved or the outcome of the situation, but I keep my questions very limited. What I need to know will come out later as I do my work with my client.
As I mentioned earlier, 25% of my clients to date have told me that they have been victims of sexual assault or abuse, but only a small number came to me specifically to address the abuse. What kind of issues will these clients present with if it is not abuse? Thus far, I have worked with clients who came to me for weight issues, smoking cessation, confidence/self esteem, relationship issues, public speaking, work performance, claustrophobia and other fears. The most important thing for me to make sure that hypnotists understand is that any one of your clients could come to you with an abuse history. They may or may not disclose it to you as you do your consultation or as you begin your work. In fact, the abuse history may or may not be related to the root cause of their issues- but it could be, so be prepared!
You will occasionally work with a client who will report to you that they were sexually abused, but “they’ve dealt with it.” As a hypnotist, you know that this may or may not be true. Your client might not believe that the abuse is part of the problem that they are coming to see you for. As a hypnotist, you know that this may or may not be true. Your client might believe that the abuse is the complete cause of what they are coming to see you for. As a hypnotist, you know that this may or may not be true. As with any other element of the client’s history, it is important to compassionately hear them out, and then do your hypnosis work so that you can truly help them overcome the problem that they are seeing you for- being open and prepared for the fact that the abuse may or may not be part of the problem.
Because our work in hypnosis is about perceptions, it is important to remember that the client’s perception of the event is what is important. They may report an incident that they perceive as abusive that you as the hypnotist do not view in the same way. This might fall into coercive sexual behaviors or child sex-play that was perceived as abusive. Follow the client’s lead on how they perceive the event and provide support accordingly. Again, unless you are doing forensic hypnosis, your sessions will be about how the incident impacted them emotionally and cognitively rather than the black and white facts of what took place.
Special considerations when working with abuse survivors
When you work with someone who has been abused or assaulted, it is very important to set up very good rapport with the client. Establish trust with them very early on and set up strong professional boundaries with them. This will help them relax, let down their guard, and will aid in your ability to get them to the hypnotic state necessary for you to work with them. If you touch clients on the shoulder or forehead, it is important that you always get permission to do so. This is especially important with clients who have a history of abuse. They may have a higher startle response or feel discomfort with this kind of touch, which could impact your sessions.
Generally speaking, you will not be working with cases that are pending trial. While there is a value in having victims see a hypnotist to help them overcome the trauma and emotional impact of the abuse or assault, it is best to wait until any legal action has been completed. Sadly, victims may have to wait months or even years before they go to trial. This can delay their emotional healing, however, they need to be able to access all of the emotions that they experienced during the assault. Neutralizing the emotions will help the client, but it can be damaging to the criminal case, so this needs to come after the trial is over. Waiting until after any legal proceedings are complete protects you from getting involved in the criminal case and potentially having to testify as well.
Most people who have been abused as children fall into the category of “normal everyday people with normal everyday problems.” Occasionally the impact of the abuse is beyond the scope of a hypnosis professional because of the extent of emotional trauma. If your client is seeing a hypnotist or psychiatrist, it is important to get a release from your client to talk to the hypnotist and to collaborate with them to ensure the best outcome for your client. If there are mental health concerns, it is important for you to be aware of them, and in some instances, to step back from assistance.
At times, the hypnosis professional may have his or her own sexual abuse history which can lead to fears about working with this population. If this is the case with you, I highly recommend having some sessions yourself to experience the process for yourself and to help you overcome it. You will not only heal yourself through this process, it will help you be a true believer in the process and its ability to effect change in your clients lives.
This article is the beginning of a year-long exploration into the topic of working with victims of abuse and assault. It is largely based on my experience in working in a rape crisis center for many years and in my experiences as a 5PATH® Hypnotist. In future editions, I will highlight techniques that I utilize in the 5PATH® process to help clients, and how I have seen these techniques positively impact the lives of my clients.
If you are interested in learning more about the topic of sexual violence and how to help people who have been abused or assaulted, I encourage you to go to https://www.rainn.org/ where you can get information, resources, and learn about your local rape crisis center. Many crisis centers offer low-cost training on the topic, which will help you feel more comfortable helping this population. As I mentioned earlier, you never know who will walk into your door and say that they were abused- with some extra preparation and understanding, you can truly help make a positive impact in their lives!
Statistics on sexual violence vary greatly depending on research methodology. Some statistics only include reported crimes, while others report numbers based on the respondent’s self-disclosure. In some reports, child sexual abuse statistics are combined with adult victimization statistics. The goal of this article is to open the reader’s eye to the prevalence of victimization in our potential clientele. Following are links to resources for additional information: