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:
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,