David Godot, Psy.D.

Rape Counseling: The Sooner The Better

Photo by Reji K.A.

After a traumatic event, most people feel a little bit like they’re losing their minds.

Because rape challenges your basic sense that the world is a safe place to live. The feeling of being violated causes such a huge rush of emotion — everything from anger to fear to guilt to sadness — that it is a really disorienting thing to recover from.

Some of the most common things that people experience as they recover from trauma are:

  • A looming sense of fear and anxiety
  • Avoiding people and place that are normally comfortable for you
  • Insomnia, jumpiness, being startled easily
  • Nightmares, and even flashbacks
  • Lack of focus and concentration
  • Depression
  • Emotional numbness
  • Irritability, feeling like you’re not yourself

These experiences are normal, and won’t last forever.

However, I recommend that anyone who has experienced a traumatic event like rape seek counseling immediately. Because the earlier you get into counseling, the better the results will be — you want to treat the psychological injury before it has a chance to set.

Here are some statistics about the natural healing rate for psychological trauma after rape.

  • Intrusive symptoms such as nightmares and flashbacks are strongest in first few weeks after rape, and usually diminish after 3-6 months.
  • Fear and anxiety, however, frequently persist beyond 1 year.
  • 1 in 4 women feel they still have not fully recovered from the trauma after 4-6 years.
  • Anxiety symptoms tend to diminish over time, but somatic symptoms (such as unexplained aches, pains, and stomach upset) can actually get worse over time.

As you can see, some of the problems caused by this type of trauma can be long-lasting if they’re not properly treated. And worse, it can sensitize you to future stress, causing ongoing mental instability. Rape survivors are more likely to report future nervous breakdowns than any other group, and 1 in 5 rape victims make a suicide attempt in the 9 years following the event.

Trauma is treatable.

As I said at the beginning of this page, traumatic events can shatter a person’s basic trust in the world.  They can disrupt not only your life, but the person living it — your sense of self.

Therefore, the first step in treatment is to re-establish a basic sense of safety. From there, you can begin to rebuild a positive sense of self, and to re-engage in the important relationships that give you strength.