Sexual Violence: The Silent Epidemic

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Sexual violence is one of the greatest traumas a human can experience. It affects millions of Americans, leaving lasting effects on functioning and wellbeing. It is difficult to address using conventional talk therapy. The research on conventional talk therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for sexual violence is disheartening, with high dropout rates and only modest gains.

Energetic and somatic therapies are particularly effective at addressing trauma, so it stands to reason that they would be effective in addressing the trauma of sexual violence. Energy psychology has demonstrated efficacy with traumatized populations. Importantly, Feinstein (2021) found that almost all – 77 of 79 – studies that included long-term follow-up found participant gains held over time, demonstrating how powerful and effective these techniques can be.

Sexual violence affects more than one third of women worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Men can also experience sexual violence, however the rates are difficult to determine due to underreporting, according to the United Nations. More than one half of assaults are committed by someone known to the survivor. There is a stigma of guilt and shame, where many victims blame themselves for what happened. The need for effective therapeutic tools to help people who have experienced sexual violence is clear, and energy psychology might fill that need. Here is what the research tells us so far.

Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse 

Kirsten Schulz (2009) evaluated the experiences of 12 therapists (with a minimum of ten years’ experience) who had integrated energy psychology into their treatments for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. In this qualitative study, the researcher explored the therapists’ experiences with their clients. The therapists reported that using  energy psychology with their clients who had experienced childhood sexual abuse was helpful because:

  • Energy psychology does not require clients to talk about their trauma,
  • Energy psychology reliably reduces trauma without having the client re-experience distress,
  • After energy psychology therapy, core issues can be discussed without client discomfort,
  • Anxiety disorders are most effectively treated by energy psychology techniques, and
  • The rapid rate of healing can affect treatment goals.

This article may be particularly relevant for clinicians who are interested in incorporating  energy psychology in their work with survivors of childhood sexual abuse, as the results provide guidelines for therapists considering incorporating these techniques into their practices.

Sexual assault-specific PTSD

Anderson, Rubik and Absenger (2019) explored the effectiveness of combining EFT and hypnosis in the treatment of sexual assault-specific post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.  This study was conducted in a private psychotherapy office and used a sequential mixed methods design.

Thirty individuals with self-identified sexual assault-specific PTSD were recruited and participated in this study. The investigators used the PCL-5 (PTSD Checklist – 5), a standard assessment for measuring symptoms of PTSD.

The researchers found an overall decrease of 34.3% on PTSD symptom severity based on PCL-5 assessment scores, after just four sessions of the combined EFT and hypnosis treatment.

Survivors of sexual violence

Nemiro and Papworth (2015) explored the effectiveness of two therapies, CBT and EFT, in the treatment of sexual violence in the Congo. Participants were 50 internally displaced female refugees who had been victims of sexual gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They were assessed using the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire (HTQ) and the Hopkins Symptom Checklist–25 (HSCL-25), which measures general mental health. Participants received two, 2 ½ hour group treatment sessions per week for 4 consecutive weeks (eight sessions total). Assessments occurred before and after treatment, and 6 months later. Participants demonstrated significant posttest improvement on both measures for both groups. Follow-up assessments showed that both groups maintained their gains over time.

Hope. And a new paradigm?

Trauma is difficult to talk and think our way out of. When we have experienced trauma, we need tools that can help us heal. Energy psychology offers a set of tools that help us do just that. As these ideas become more widely known, energy psychology methods will come increasingly into the mainstream. Then, many people will be helped and healed.

Want to help spread the word about energy psychology?

Share this article with your friends and colleagues! If you are looking for a trained clinician, you can find our practitioner directory here. If you are a clinician, consider getting certified in  energy psychology. For more information (including citations and abstracts) on energy psychology research, visit ACEP’s research page.

Finding Recovery and Empowerment from Abuse (FREA) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to teach self-help tools and skills empowering people in recovery from abuse. The FREA website includes numerous blogs, articles and videos demonstrating  energy psychology  techniques for folks in recovery.  Learn more about FREA here.

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John Freedom, CEHP, serves as the chair of ACEP’s research committee, on the Board of Trustees of EFT International, and as executive director of FREA: Finding Recovery and Empowerment from Abuse.  The author of Heal Yourself with Emotional Freedom Technique, he leads trainings and events throughout the US and in Europe.

Sarah Murphy, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor and nationally certified counselor with more than 15 years of clinical experience. She is Communications Committee Chair for ACEP and serves on its Board. She is in private practice and is staff therapist for Unite for HER.

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