Counselling might be the first time some have ever disclosed the abuse. There might have been silence for many years. Speaking to a counsellor can result in a great sense of relief. Some survivors may have been rejected or disbelieved when trying to speak out about abuse in the past. Being listened to and believed in vital.
Trust is often a difficult issue for survivors. Some find it impossible to trust anyone. Others, can trust too easily. Some are not able to use their instinct to recognise situations that other people find uncomfortable. Survivors can find themselves getting into abusive relationships and risky situations. Or seek relationships where they are in charge. Counselling offers trustworthiness with respect to confidentiality, reliability and other boundary issues. Experiencing a trusting relationship with the counsellor allows the client to re-set their capacity to trust other people.
Childhood sexual abuse is traumatic in many different ways and children often learn to protect themselves by splitting off their awareness of the abuse. This process is called dissociation. There may be flashbacks. A counsellor can help the client to understand the process of dissociation, so that they are less frightened, and can begin to re-integrate their memories.
Survivors can have hidden feelings of shame. Telling their story to a counsellor allows them to see things from a different perspective. They may realise for the first time just how young and vulnerable they were when the abuse took place. The counsellor will emphasise that a child is never to blame, no matter how persuasively the abuser tells them that they are. Hearing from a professional that their experience was typical can bring huge release from shame. Instead, feelings of anger and grief may surface, which the counsellor can help to deal with safely.
Counsellors are used to hearing very shocking and upsetting accounts. For the client, being able to share details which once seemed unbearable for another person to hear can bring great comfort, and again can help to dissolve feelings of shame. Current issues, no matter how painful, can be brought up in a supportive, non-judgmental environment.
For the counsellor and client to work through the many issues arising from childhood sexual abuse can take a while, but eventually the aim is that the client feels ready to move on, leaving counselling feeling more empowered and more free to live their life.