Am I ready for counselling?

I’ve been wondering what to write next for a little while now and this is a post which I keep coming back to. It’s a question that bothered me for a long time before I embarked on my journey with counselling, and one which I spent many an evening poring over the internet trying to answer.

It is only now I realise that no one can answer that question for you. Until you have experienced it, it is impossible to describe what counselling after sexual violence is like or how it will feel. However, there are a few things which I wanted to write about my own personal experience which I hope may go some way to helping those of you who are considering accessing counselling for the first time.

How will I know I’m ready?

As I’ve already said, unfortunately I can’t answer this question for you. Being ‘ready’ will be individual to everyone, and very much depends on your own personal circumstances. I can only talk from personal experience, so here are a few things that made me feel ready for counselling:

1: Environment

Counselling is tough, there is no two ways about that. Having people around you who can support you and being in a place where you feel safe is important. For me this meant having supportive colleagues and moving into a new flat (bit extreme but necessary!). Consider who you have around you, this can be family, friends or even an online community. You don’t necessarily have to talk to them about your counselling or how you are feeling, having people who can distract you with a coffee or a walk can be just as beneficial. As much as you may want to isolate, doing so wont help with recovery.

For me, being in the right environment also made me ‘ready’. I believe my brain knew that I had the support and safety to finally face my past as memories started suddenly flooding to the forefront in a way they never had before, and I almost instinctively knew that now was the right time to get help. I’m not saying this will happen for everyone, but it is something I have heard others say too! For me, not taking about it and holding it all in became harder than facing it head on.

2: Finding the right counsellor

Now this is a biggie! In the UK accessing counselling can mean long waiting lists and limited sessions. It may be a case of shopping around and seeing what is available in your area, and what would work best for you. One way to do this is to visit your GP and ask for recommendations on NHS waiting times and a list of local charities. Many regions in the UK will have a Rape Crisis Centre, or you could look for other (often smaller) projects. Personally I used a Trust House Centre, which was quick to access and offered an unlimited number of sessions. However this really is dependent on where you live (unfortunately), and you may have to wait for some time before an appointment becomes available. I have included a list of options for support on my Sources of Support page. While you are waiting, I would recommend looking for support groups (on or offline), and you may wish to look into your local IAPT service for support with managing symptoms of depression and anxiety. There are also some great online resources, such as Creating Safety from Nottingham SVC or this one from Jessica Eaton. Finally, writing or drawing may also be a way of expressing yourself, and can be a great resource to eventually take into counselling with you.

Once you find a counsellor, don’t feel that you have to stick with the first one you see. The therapeutic relationship is like any other relationship, sometimes people click and sometimes they don’t. If you don’t feel comfortable with your counsellor say so, it’s no one’s fault and they will not be offended. It might be something you can work out, or if not they should be more than happy to recommend another counsellor, or the clinical lead in the organisation you are accessing may be able to reallocate you.

3: What will happen when I contact them?

Now, I can only speak from my own experience for this one. When I contacted the charity I received counselling from, they asked me to fill in a self referral form with some brief questions about myself, my circumstances and the reasons I was referring myself for counselling. This form didn’t require in depth information, just a brief outline of the issues I felt I needed help with/wanted to address.

Next I was invited to an initial assessment. This was with the organisations clinical lead, and was a bit more detailed than the original referral form. Here I was asked further questions about my personal circumstances, my support system and my wellbeing in what felt like a loosely structured chat. It can feel a little bit intrusive, but questions about your mental health and personal relationships etc are intended so that the right level of support can be offered to you, and so the more honest you can be the better. There’s no need to be embarrassed or ashamed, I can guarantee they will have heard it all before. After my initial assessment I was then placed on the waiting list until I was allocated to my counsellor.

The important thing to know is that at no point will you be forced to talk about what happened to you or anything else you feel uncomfortable discussing. Everything is done at your own pace and you are in control of the conversation, indeed it took me 7 sessions to finally open up to my counsellor. Also, just because you are accessing counselling primarily for sexual violence doesn’t mean that is all you can discuss, often other things will come up which are interconnected.

The most important thing I can say is listen to yourself and trust your instincts on what you need. And remember, if you start counselling and find it is not for you then you can stop! There is no shame in admitting that it is not right for you or it is not the right time, and there are several other options aside from talking therapies which you may find beneficial.

I hope that this has been of some use, if you have any questions or would like to share your own experiences then please leave a comment below!

Thank you for reading,

Kate.

What is peer-to-peer CSA?

As my bio suggests, I am a #MeTooSchool survivor. The abuse I experienced is often referred to as peer-to-peer CSA or peer sexual abuse by professionals, however this term is one that not many people are aware of. Indeed I myself wasn’t until last year!

Peer-to-peer CSA is when a child or young person abuses another child or young person. In my case this was sexual abuse in my secondary school, however this situation is not exclusive and and any abuse between young people would be included. Peer-to-peer CSA is complicated and raises a lot of issues over school cultures, accountability and rights, amongst others.

I always say that my story starts when I was gang raped by older pupils just outside my school gates aged 12, however in reality there was a build up to this way before that. Not connected in terms of ongoing incidents, but in terms of the cultures within our schools. Children act out what they see in our society. Little girls are told to wear shorts under their skirts for ‘modesty’, schools stop girls from playing certain sports or running long distance because they’re ‘can’t manage it’. Society puts girls down, makes us lesser and normalises VAWG through media and dialogue, and our young people are influenced by this. Boys think that’s how girls are treated, and girls think that being mistreated is ‘just part of being a girl’ – or at least that’s what I thought. So really my abuse started when I was 9, when other pupils started looking up my skirt and commenting on my body. This formed the basis of me believing that this is what it meant to be a girl, and this formed the basis of the culture in which more severe forms of abuse where able to occur. Not that I am absolving my abusers of all agency, they still chose to do what they did, but it raises questions over how much schools are doing to tackle this. My abuse continued until I was 15, culminating in another boy sexually assaulting me twice in an empty classroom on two separate occasions.

Sexual abuse between young people in schools is not something that many people want to face as a reality, however it is happening up and down the country every day. Research cited by the NSPCC (linked below) suggests that around 1/3 of CSA cases are peer-to-peer. Like other forms of sexual abuse, many young people will know their abusers and are forced to see them everyday. This can have significant effects on education and mental health.

As I said at the start of this post, peer-to-peer sexual abuse is complicated because it raises issues over accountability. Children committing acts of sexual abuse may be abused children acting out what others have done to them, making them both a victim and a perpetrator. There are also questions over right to education, with the need to balance the victim and perpetrators rights against each other as well as maintaining the safety of other children. I will write more abut my thoughts on this at a later date!

You can read more about peer-to-peer CSA from the NSPCC here: https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/research-resources/2018/is-this-sexual-abuse/

Again thank you for reading my blog! If you have any questions or would like me to write on a particular topic please comment below or tweet me at @NotesofKate.

‘Socially acceptable’ signs of abuse

Growing up as a survivor since the age of 12, I have come to find that there are a lot of stereotypes about children who have been sexually abused. Whilst it is not uncommon, and certainly not surprising that many children who have experienced CSA will display the ‘challenges’ and ‘difficulties’ which large organisations and specialists tell us to look out for, it feels important to note that this is not the case for all children. Not recognising ‘socially acceptable’ ways of handling sexual abuse means that we are missing out children who desperately need support but cannot find the words to ask for it.

I was sexually abused by school peers on and around school premises between the ages of 12 and 15 years old. But for me, rather than distancing myself education and learning became my escape. Rather than appearing as a child who was struggling, I was the girl who was regularly coming top of the class, attending numerous extra curricular activities, maintaining good friendships (albeit short lived ones- which I will come back to), and generally coming across as someone who had everything together. I wasn’t what a teacher or safeguarding lead would be looking out for by any stretch of the imagination.

So, here’s some of the less publicly recognised signs to look out for in a child who may be experiencing abuse:

Overly compliant

Children who are being abused can be the ultimate ‘people pleasers’. Firstly, we know how being hurt feels and we are desperate not make others feel that way. Many of us are also terrified of someone finding out our secret, and so will do everything in our power to go undetected and/or hold on to what little control we feel we have left.

Excessive commitments and over involvement

Kids getting involved in as many extra curricular activities as possible is great right? But keep an eye out for the ones who do EVERYTHING, they might be using it as an escape. Don’t want anyone to ask questions or have time to think? Make sure you’re constantly busy. No one can ask you questions and your brain doesn’t have space to go over and over that assault last week, bingo.

Difficulty sustaining long term friendships

Now this one may be difficult to spot as young people do tend to change their friendship groups as they grow and develop. However, if a young person does struggle to maintain friendships, which appear to end for no apparent reason, this may be a sign something is wrong. I would initially develop very positive friendships with other young people, but as I got closer to them would drift away to prevent them from asking too many questions. I also struggled to maintain friendships I got older, and other girls were staring to discuss boys and relationships. I was never isolated and without friends, but I never kept the same ones for very long.

I hope this blog post will be helpful to professionals working with young people, and hope it gives an initial insight into the less spoken about behaviours exhibited by children experiencing peer to peer sexual abuse. If you have any questions please comment below, or tweet me at @NotesOfKate. Thank you for reading!

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