The incidence of sexual assault in America remains at distressingly high levels. Now two Florida State University graduate students are trying to help local victims with the healing and recovery process
The statistics are that one out of every five women in the U.S. will experience sexual assault at some point in their lives. FSU Clinical Psychology graduate student Katherine Schafer is one of the treatment project organizers.
“Here at the FSU Psychology Clinic we are starting in the fall a treatment group for survivors of sexual assault,” she said. “We are currently in the recruitment phase and we’ll be conducting cognitive processing therapy in a group format. It’s evidence-based treatment specifically for survivors of sexual assault.”
Schafer said it will be open to everyone who needs it.
“We know that on college campuses, sexual assault is very prevalent,” she pointed out. “The group that we’re doing is actually open to the community as well so you don’t have to be affiliated with Florida State University to receive treatment at the clinic. This is open – especially the group – to any survivor of sexual assault in the Tallahassee community.”
Grace Kennedy, also a clinical psychology grad student, said the simple admission that the assault occurred is often an almost insurmountable obstacle to seeking help.
“Anyone who’s experienced trauma – especially sexual assault – so much of that response is a feeling of shame afterwards. And when you feel that emotion of shame, your reaction is to close up and not share that with anybody and hide away. Certainly the environment that we have been in in some instances and student responses at FSU have perpetuated that feeling of shame.”
But Kennedy said pretending the assault didn’t happen is never an effective coping and resolution strategy.
“What happens when you do that is that the traumatic memories and emotions keep coming up and they express themselves in different ways and start to affect different parts of your life. And so what cognitive processing therapy really does is say, ‘Okay, you’ve been corking up all of that stuff for so long and now we have to uncork it. That’s really hard, but we’re there with you to walk you through how to do that.’”
Schafer said the treatment protocol that will be used in the course of these sessions has a long track record of effectiveness.
“Cognitive processing therapy, when given on a weekly basis for 12-14 sessions, is met with reduced symptomology; reducing those symptoms, feelings of shame and isolation and symptoms related to hyper-vigilance. Those are decreased, especially in survivors of sexual assault who are experiencing full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Kennedy said the sessions will take place weekly.
“We plan to run the group Thursday evenings from 6-7:30 p.m. That’s when the group will run this semester, but if we get enough interest then potentially we could even start another group.”
Schafer said the process of recruiting participants is now underway.
“We are still open to people joining this fall. They can call the FSU Psychology Clinic at (850) 644-3006 and let the front office staff know they’re interested in joining the group ‘Rebuilding after Trauma.’”
And because of the extreme sensitivity of the issue, both Schafer and Kennedy added the clinic will follow every possible confidentiality protocol to ensure the privacy of participants.