Frequently Asked Questions From Survivors

On this page you will find information about the resources we provide and both the rationale and the research behind our mission and vision. We include information about what, in our perspective, constitutes an embodied approach to healing, how the holistic healing arts differ from and also complement conventional health, wellness and medical practices, understanding resilience and non-linear healing, describing trauma-informed care, the spectrum of sexual violence and sexual trauma, and more. For a summary of our services and information about our work, you are also welcome to download this pdf copy of our brochure.

Please feel free to contact us directly if you have questions about the content on our website and would like more information and clarification about our work. You can write us at: info@thebreathenetwork.org or molly@thebreathenetwork.org.

FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions From Survivors

What are “embodied approaches to healing” and why are they relevant to survivors?

Embodied approaches to healing means that the technique allows the survivor to feel connected to themselves and present within their own shape. Literally, to have a feeling of themselves within the body and to be able to notice sensation, their breath, their state of mind, etc. It involves providing a healing method that allows for the client to notice or create a connection within which is also connected to the power of being present or in the moment. This approach creates an environment that values the importance of noticing changes in the body like increased heart rate, or chattering of teeth, or perhaps learning to identify what situations cause us to disconnect from the body and take our minds elsewhere – and what we can do to bring ourselves back into our bodies and into the present moment when that happens.

More about embodied healing…

Embodied healing is particularly important after sexual violence because for many survivors, they may have felt like they “left” their body during the assault and inhabiting their body (consciously feeling the sensation inside) feels risky or scary. In order to cope with overwhelming sensation in the body, some survivors will numb or alter their reality, whether through substances, food, or other techniques. These efforts to avoid feeling their connection to the full range of feeling, thought and emotion inside of them are useful for managing the impact of trauma at its height, but overtime can become counterproductive to healing, wellness and safety. On the other hand, due the nature of having had to “leave” their body to survive the sexual assault, a survivor may now experience bodily disconnect as something that is triggering to them. They may notice that when they participate regularly and consistently in a healing activity (whether through movement, arts, spending time in nature, psychotherapy, etc.) the trauma feels manageable, but when for whatever reason, they aren’t able to maintain their practice, they start to notice their symptoms resurfacing.

How survivors benefit from embodied approaches to healing…

We believe all survivors can benefit from utilizing a variety of daily or weekly self-care practices to maintain that connection to themselves by taking the time to check in and notice how they are doing on a variety of levels – assessing their physical wellness, mental health, their relationship with themselves and others, etc. While each survivor responds differently to sexual trauma, many survivors will report that they have a changed relationship with their body, a heightened or diminished sensitivity to their body, or a new awareness of the body after the assault. Embodied healing recognizes the importance of fortifying a person from the inside out, and creating a healing space that allows them to re-establish their connection with their whole self – body, mind and for some, their spirit. This approach to strengthening the mind/body/spirit link, where the vast range of sensation, emotion, beliefs and experiences of the survivor are all included, valued and contained, might also be described as an integrated approach to healing.

What does it mean to be “trauma-informed” and “trauma-sensitive”? Are they the same?

Trauma-informed care is an approach that understands and makes space for the physical, psychological and in some cases spiritual impacts of trauma that we may carry for decades. Recognizing that emotional trauma may manifest in the body, and physical trauma may manifest in the psyche, trauma-informed care is inclusive of the whole person and encompasses their history. Practitioners with this approach recognize that harmful behaviors or disruptive symptoms are often responses to past trauma, or a means of coping with or adapting to, painful past and present circumstances. With this lens, survivors are not shamed or blamed for ways in which they have attempted to cope, but these methods are recognized as them doing their best to survive. Trauma-informed care occurs when a practitioner creates an environment for a survivor that privileges their safety (whether emotional, physical or other) and their ability to make decisions by being collaborative, responsive, attentive and flexible in the treatment based on the unique needs of the client and their history.

More about trauma-informed and trauma-sensitive care…

Increasingly, the terms trauma-informed and trauma-sensitive care are used interchangeably and it can be useful to inquire with the healing arts practitioner about what those terms mean to them or how those terms inform their work as a healing arts practitioner. To be sensitive to trauma may involve understanding that a survivor may have specific and unique needs that the practitioner should be attentive to, needs that are unlike another client with no overt trauma history; whereas being trauma-informed might suggest that the practitioner has a more nuanced or in-depth understanding of the impact of trauma on the body, mind and spirit and training in making specific modifications or adaptions to account for trauma’s impact on the different aspects of the human system. Again, they are absolutely related and sometimes used interchangeably depending on the context or healing arts modality of the practitioner. We strive to ensure that all of our practitioners are sensitive to the needs of a survivor, as well as deeply informed and educated about the nature of sexual trauma and its layered impact on the various systems of the body, the mind and the soul.

How are holistic healing services different from other types of conventional medical interventions?

Holistic healing addresses the whole person – their physical health, their emotional health and at times, their energetic or spiritual wellness. It can be part of traditional medical intervention, and it can also be complementary to such interventions. When working with a holistic healing arts practitioner, you can expect that the practitioner will honor the connections between the body and the mind, and for some, the spirit.

More about holistic healing support…

Receiving holistic healing support can empower and sustain a survivor by strengthening their inner resources and giving them tangible techniques to utilize in times of stress or when their symptoms begin to resurface. Examples might include using a rhythmic breathing technique to reduce anxiety during a pelvic exam, or upon waking from a nightmare, practicing a sequence of soothing yoga poses to help relax their nervous system and eventually return to sleep. It can also empower a survivor to learn that there are well-known, effective tools and techniques to treat post-traumatic stress symptoms (sleep disturbance, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, etc.) that do not involve having to take any medication nor do they have any negative side effects.

What are sliding-scale services?

Sliding-scale means that the practitioner can provide a range of fees for services that are not fixed, but rather flexible and dependent on a variety of factors that might include; how often the treatment/session is required, the survivor’s income or financial resources, etc. Each practitioner defines the extent of the range for their fee for services, yet by offering sliding-scale, many are open to a dialogue about what fee might would allow the survivor to access healing while also supporting the practitioner in delivering their services.

What is inner resilience and why is it important?

Inner resilience can mean a variety of things depending on the person, but for our work in general, inner resilience is the recognition of and the practice of tapping into one’s own ability to heal from the inside out. Learning to identify, create and cultivate the tools and mental strength that you have inside to self-regulate, to trust in your capacity to heal and to seek out support during difficult times, can help a survivor more easily adapt to the ebb and flow of highs and lows that they may encounter along their healing journey. Inner resilience grows out of our self-awareness and our connection to the deepest part of ourselves, therefore it is something we always carry with us and we don’t have to always rely on external resources for support. Learning to trust and honor the wisdom of our experiences, to allow for the vast range of our emotions to be safely expressed, and to find the tools or methods that help us feel connected to ourselves can be vital to sustainable healing and living.

What are “modalities”?

Modalities is just another way of saying approaches, techniques, or methods of healing. It is the system that the practitioner uses to deliver their healing treatment. Examples include acupuncture, massage, yoga, psychotherapy, art therapy, biofeedback, qi gong, etc.

What is sexual violence or sexual trauma?

Sexual violence encompasses a range of non-consensual acts, behaviors and experiences that include rape, sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment and stalking. Sexual violence is a crime that can be committed by people of all genders and it can be perpetrated by friends, family members, colleagues, partners, spouses and strangers. Importantly, survivors of sexual violence include people of all genders and all ages – women, men, boys, girls, transgender* and genderqueer individuals.

The traumatic nature of sexual violence can be experienced as a life-threatening event in which all the systems of the body are highly activated, but we are not necessarily able to discharge that energy from the body. This residual build-up of tension can create ongoing disruptions – physically, emotionally and energetically. Physical contact is not always a component of sexual violence and words, images, and threats can be just as violent or traumatic, and can create similar disruptions as those experienced by survivors who are physically touched.

As well, events that may not be often identified as sexual violence, but rather sexual trauma, such as an invasive medical procedure, disease, or a painful exam connected to the reproductive organs or a person’s sense of sexuality/sensuality, may result in very similar symptoms that a person who has been raped experiences. Such a person may not identify as a “survivor” however, it is important to acknowledge their wounds may require much of the same treatment as someone who experienced interpersonal violence. Our practitioners can and do provide healing for these individuals as well.

More about the spectrum of sexual violence and sexual trauma…

It is important to acknowledge that sexual violence and sexual trauma occur along a spectrum and we cannot quantify the impact of such experiences based solely on the nature of the abuse or experience that occurred. Research tells us is that it is not necessarily the act itself that creates the traumatic response, but also the feelings, sensations, and fears – as well as unprocessed energy – that were evoked prior to, during, and after the event that create disruption for the person. It is more about the person’s experience of what happened to them, what the event/s stirred up inside of them and how it has changed them, and not necessarily about the specific details themselves. In an effort to cope, many people will minimize their experience by thinking it wasn’t “as bad” as what happens to some people, because we live in a society that has in many ways created a hierarchy of sexual violence/sexual trauma from least bad to worst. Yet the impact of that belief is that the person who experienced the trauma then feels worse, less capable, more confused and may even feel guilt about their strong reaction to the event/s. What matters is that we as practitioners, as friends, as family members, and as healers, all respond to the individual’s unique needs – that we validate their story and their reactions, and that we link them to a variety of resources to embark upon or continue their journey of healing. We cannot quantify the pain of sexual violence or sexual trauma, nor do we need to, but we can attend to each individual person and provide them with the patience, care, sensitivity and compassion they deserve and they require to recover.

What are some of the common responses survivors experience after sexual violence?

There is no one way and no “right way” to respond to sexual violence or trauma. Each person has their own experience and their own reactions which may include a range of physical, mental, emotional, energetic or spiritual disruptions or changes. All responses are valid and normal reactions to trauma and in many cases, brilliant ways that the various systems of the human body attempt to protect and heal us. Some people may have very intense responses or longer-term difficulties with healing after sexual violence, whereas others may have less severe reactions and may process the experience in a shorter period of time. Each survivor is unique and the way they react to, address and define their experience is completely up to them. Importantly, just as there is no single path for healing, there is also no set timeline for healing.

More about traumatic response…

In 1974, Ann Wolbert Burgess and Lynda Lytle Holmstrom identified what they described as Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS), which is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. RTS includes a wide range of symptoms and reactions experienced by many survivors during, immediately following, and for months or years after the assault. RTS can involve psychological, physical, behavioral, cognitive, and interpersonal disruptions including headaches, anxiety, inability to concentrate, sleeplessness, lethargy, anger, depression, mood irregularity, spiritual disconnection, hopelessness, fear/avoidance of intimacy, disordered eating, self-injury and substance abuse. Survivors may feel like their own “internal landscape” (moods, body sensation, memories) is unpredictable, which can be alarming. Some symptoms may include hyper-arousal, numbness, hopelessness, paralyzing fear, intrusive images, chronic pain, mood swings, and vivid nightmares, causing a host of imbalances while also disrupting many of the natural rhythms of the body. Survivors may experience flashbacks upon some sort of sensory trigger in which they feel as if the assault is happening all over again – and the physical and emotional responses can be quite visceral, if not debilitating.

More about how the holistic healing arts address traumatic responses…

The holistic healing arts can address, treat, and in some cases, heal these symptoms or responses to trauma. Within the vast range of healing arts techniques, there is a common recognition that we as humans are intrinsically whole, that our systems gravitate toward balance, and that imbalances are appropriate responses to trauma and important messages our bodies give us about what they need to heal. This way of understanding ourselves as bodies, minds and spirits, can enhance our self-sustainability by giving us different tools to access our healing, and teaches us to notice ourselves, to honor our responses and to approach our symptoms and experience with compassion. We can learn through a variety of healing arts practices how to release the pain, anger, grief and loss when it arises and allow it to move through us – no matter how long it has been, and without any self-judgment. This enables us to maintain a sense of compassionate curiosity about ourselves, to remain fluid and present with our dynamic journey and to cultivate gratitude for the insights we will discover when the next layer of our wound emerges.

What do you mean by non-linear healing?

The journey to heal after sexual violence is non-linear, and it may include phases and stages that stretch out across a lifetime. A survivor may experience emotional disruptions or painful sensation years or decades after the event that may feel as charged, or as painful, as the event itself. These responses might be provoked by their anniversary, seeing their perpetrator, reading a news story about rape, as well as being caused by the general instability that occurs during any major life change or transition (moving, becoming a parent, loss of a loved one, end of a relationship, etc.) Our society communicates, both overtly and in subtle ways, an arbitrary timeline for how long any one of us is allowed to grieve trauma or loss. Many survivors are overwhelmed by pressure from family, friends and partners to “move on” or to “return to normal” and they may not feel entitled to ask for the help that they need and deserve. Much of their energy is then spent covering up or minimizing their own pain – which can actually extend or make their journey to heal more challenging.

More about non-linear healing…

As a society, we do not always discuss the truth that healing can be complex and full of breakthroughs as well as breakdowns, so inevitably, when survivors continue to feel despair about an event from which they are many years removed, they question themselves. They might feel that something is wrong with them for continuing to experience such heightened sensitivity related to their trauma. The reality is that the process of healing is more like an ongoing practice that requires intentionality, consistency, and endurance. It requires a willingness and a tenacity on the part of the survivor to begin again, and again, and again. Survivors benefit when their friends, family and colleagues give them permission and space to process their loss without the expectation or pressure to “get over it”, while making room for them to slowly integrate the experience on a variety of levels.

Our role as supporters, healers, activists and loved ones is to encourage people to be free of external pressures for how they should heal, or what healing looks like, and instead, empower them to follow what feels true or innate to their specific journey. What they are drawn to in their healing may change over time. As well, their process doesn’t need to make “sense” to us, rather, it simply needs to be meaningful to the one who survived the trauma. There is an unparalleled opportunity for self-discovery amidst the darkness of grief and loss, and personal insights and revelations come with finding the necessary safety and support for survivors to be able to fully listen inside, to feel all that they have experienced, and to hear and reclaim the wisdom of their own voice again.

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Is there another topic or term that you would like us to clarify or add to our Frequently Asked Questions page? Please send us a note at info@thebreathenetwork.org and we will do our best to respond your inquiry either in an email or by including the information on this page.