Healing the Wounds of Sexual Violence through Coaching: An Interview with Rachel Grant
Healing the Wounds of Sexual Violence through Coaching: An Interview with Rachel Grant
“I came to explore the wreck. The words are purposes. The words are maps. I came to see the damage that was done, and the treasures that prevail.” ~Adrienne Rich
Introduction by Molly Boeder Harris
In her poem, Diving Into the Wreck, Adrienne Rich touched eloquently on the gifts of self-discovery that can be brought to light amidst our darkest times, as well as the importance of making room for the vast range of emotions and sensations that we contain deep within.
Embodied healing after sexual violence can take many forms, as well as have very different meaning to each unique survivor, and yet one quality or thread that arises out of an embodied healing practice is a survivor’s ability to hold the space for both the pain of their traumatic experience(s) and to identify the beauty of their innate resilience. This witnessing of all that our beings contain in the aftermath of trauma – heartbreak and hopelessness, surrender and love, tears of grief for a loss we may never fully recover and tears of gratitude for the miracle of our surviving – can be contained and supported through a regular self-care practice that balances, centers and nourishes our bodies, minds and spirits. The insights discovered when we search out our innermost spaces and experiences may ultimately be the most precious gems of our lifetime.
Healing teaches self-compassion and simultaneously requires self-compassion. A it is a process that emerges organically and in a non-linear way – it will test our patience, our faith and our ability to accept and be tender with ourselves, even, or perhaps especially, when we find ourselves unraveling all over again. Practices that integrate the body, mind and spirit allow us to tap into or return to our natural state of quiet, ease and spaciousness inside. They also provide a unique space where we can identify the source of our own resilience and connect with the core of who we are, an important and resource inside that remains unchanged, steady and clear deep beneath the surface of trauma’s rocky waters. We can work intentionally with our breath and witness the constancy of change along with our ability to soften and soothe ourselves from the inside out. We can explore the images in our dreamscapes and bring those into the light of day to guide a vision of what may be possible and what images give us hope. We can immerse ourselves in the magnificent processes of nature to see that we are a part of that miraculous system, and just like the earth, the trees, the animals – we are designed to gravitate towards balance.
That our physical, mental and subtle “bodies” are intrinsically connected is a gift throughout the lifespan. This gift becomes essential resource as we heal from trauma because the very fact that each “body” can and does impact the other, offers us many options, entry points and pathways from which we can initiate our healing journey. Healing the wounds of sexual violence is an art like any other and when the path we carve is done with as much intuition, precision, and vision as that of a sculptor creating an imagined idea out of an unformed piece of stone, the “products” of our process can be a magnificent thing to behold.
To this end, this week I was fortunate to connect with Rachel Grant, one of our practitioners at The Breathe Network who offers coaching to survivors of sexual violence and who has authored an incredible guidebook for survivors of sexual violence called Beyond Surviving: The Final Stage in Recovery from Sexual Abuse. I learned about her coaching practice, her journey from victim to “Beyond Survivor” and the work of art she has created to offer survivors a guide for navigating the healing path with her book. As a healer and a survivor, she embodies the capacity to not only overcome trauma, but to truly channel it into a resource of compassion for others, allowing her to offer the gifts of her own wisdom discovered on her unique healing path as a beacon of light for others embarking on this, or truly any, transformational journey.
Rachel’s journey from victim to (beyond) survivor reminds all of us, that with support, courage and kindness, we can fully bear witness our pain – and in doing so, we may simultaneously recognize our unshakeable source of power beginning to rise to the surface to meet us. Truly, it is our treasures that prevail.
The Breathe Network: Rachel, I know you hold a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology and you are a Sexual Abuse Recovery Coach. Can you tell me more about how coaching is different or similar to counseling/psychotherapy and also, perhaps how you’ve integrated your graduate work into your professional endeavors?
Rachel Grant: Sure, I often think of therapy as being for people who are not functioning and need to be brought to the level of functioning. Whereas coaching is more for folks who are functioning well enough, but just need to get that boost to go to the next level. Coaching is often considered more action-oriented and future focused with therapy being more reflective. This means that coaching often involves more inquiry than simply listening on my part; more accountability and less time in reflection for my clients. We also spend time working collaboratively to develop goals and specific actions that can be taken to begin practicing the new skills they’ve learned right away. Even so, while I use many coaching strategies when working with my clients, much of my work is informed by Cognitive-Behavioral therapeutic techniques and neuroscience, both of which I developed skills in while completing my graduate work.
TBN: I am so amazed by the beautiful and empowering book you wrote, “Beyond Surviving: The Final Stage in Recovery from Sexual Abuse” and I love the way that it speaks so clearly and compassionately to survivors. I wanted to know more about why you felt called to create this book? What does it address that perhaps wasn’t already being explored related to recovery from sexual abuse?
RG: Well the guidebook was definitely a labor of love. To tell you the truth, I resisted writing a book for some time. I thought maybe it would be enough to use what was already out there—I mean, there’s a lot! So, I actually spent quite a bit of time reading other books, checking out various groups, and looking at online resources. However, over and over again I ended up feeling frustrated and still at a loss when it came to answering what was, to me, the most critical question – “What do I do about this? How do I actually move on and feel like myself again?” Eventually, with much prodding from friends and family, I leaned into the idea of writing a book that would give survivors a clear path out of the past and into a future in which they are free and able to take back their rights and realize their own ability to make powerful choices about who they are and how they live. Beyond Surviving is the result and really is based not just on my training in counseling psychology and neuroscience but also on what actually worked for me!
TBN: You have described the healing process with a metaphor that likens it to the way in which our skin heals after a scrape and eventually a scar forms. One of my favorite quotes (by Clarissa Pinkola Estes) is “It is good to remember that in tensile strength and ability to absorb pressure, a scar is stronger than skin.” Can you tell me a bit more about the idea that through healing work like coaching we can eventually see or remember our scars yet not be so affected by them? What does that process look like?
RG: First of all, that’s a great quote! The analogy of the scar and being able to think about abuse in this way came to me one day while I was listening to a woman talk about healing from a broken relationship. I thought, “Yes! In relationships, we get hurt, but we eventually, if all goes well, learn what needed to be learned from the experience, move on, and are able to give it another go. Why can’t we do the same thing when it comes to the experience of being abused?”
This “scrape of abuse”, for many of us, remains unhealed for years and years. At times, we may attempt to bandage and tend to the wound, but find that the wound just doesn’t mend. Worse yet, we may come to believe this wound will never heal. In the case of a physical scrape from a fall to the ground, one’s skin does eventually heal and leaves a scar. We may look at our knee, see the scar, and remember the day we were wounded. Yet we do not relive the actual pain or other emotions that occurred at the moment we were hurt, nor do we attempt to change our behavior due to the scar. We will fully bend our knee without fear of reopening the wound. I firmly believe that the wounds of our abuse can be healed and looked backed upon in this same manner. In my program, I teach survivors the three steps they must take in order to reach this place. They can download a recent talk I gave outlining those three steps here.
TBN: I was recently at a conference hosted by OAASIS, Oregon Abuse Advocates and Survivors in Service, who focus on prevention of sexual abuse and empowerment of survivors and operate out of Portland. The workshops and keynote speaker explored the long term health impacts of childhood sexual abuse on the survivor as an adult, and the importance of utilizing healing modalities that reintegrate the body, mind and spirit. Can you tell us about some of the physical, mental or spiritual health related effects that survivors might experience as adults and that you work with through coaching?
RG: It’s so true that abuse can certainly impact our health in addition to the more clear psychological and spiritual effects. Some of the health related issues include chronic stress, fatigue, depression, low sex drive, higher risk for heart attack (this comes as a result of the coping behaviors not the abuse itself – e.g. overeating, smoking), and obesity. In fact, I recently did a talk with a fellow coach of mine addressing the body and weight issues which survivors often deal with because so many of my clients were starting to bring this forward as a major obstacle or concern. You can find that talk here.
This talk really reinforced my perspective that psychological beliefs, which I often address in my work, drive our physical responses and outcomes. For example, a recent client had struggled with her weight for 30 years. As we made our way through the program, we worked to uncover the beliefs that were ultimately leading her to choose the behaviors that were leading her to be overweight. During one session, there was a real a-ha moment when we connected being “large” with being “powerful”. By the end of our work together, she was able to let go of this belief, release using weight as a protection, and has been successfully making intentional choices about food and exercise that serve her own wellness and resilience as a result!
TBN: The work you do and the book you have created is such an incredible resource for survivors and practitioners, as well, your willingness to incorporate and draw from your healing journey creates such a powerful light of hope for other survivors – how do you balance the work you do as a healer with your own ongoing self-care practice?
RG: You know, it’s interesting. I think if I had tried to do this work in my twenties, before I was a Beyond Survivor, that I would have been a total wreck! But one of the things that I truly cherish and appreciate about being where I am in life is that the sexual abuse I experienced at the hands of my grandfather at the age of ten doesn’t have a grip on me, so I don’t find myself being “triggered” by my clients’ stories. I do find myself relating to the frustration, the anger, the sadness, and I think it’s that ability to relate and also my commitment to moving them past it that makes my work so rewarding and creates a safe, solid ground for me and my clients to stand on.
I’m someone who believes we can always grow, learn more, so I love reading books and talking with friends, and I certainly have a great support network for the days when I’m not up to the task of life. Mostly – I make sure I laugh each day!
TBN: I understand you offer some training or continuing education for practitioners looking to utilize your workbook into healing groups they offer. How can practitioners and survivors get more involved with your work?
RG: Yes! One of the things I’m committed to is bringing Beyond Surviving to more communities—whether that be by connecting with non-profits, individual therapist, or peer-to-peer support groups. So, I’ve developed a facilitator’s training and written a facilitator’s guidebook. Anyone who is looking for a curriculum to use either in small groups or in an individual practice can participate in a three part training in which they receive an introduction to the program and what their role is as the facilitator, clear instructions as to how the course is structured and how to deliver the materials, and finally one-to-one coaching from me through role playing a lesson or exercise.
TBN: Thank you Rachel for helping us better understand coaching as a healing modality, as well as sharing your own personal discoveries along the healing path – and of course, for being part of our team of holistic healers at The Breathe Network!
If you would like to learn more about working with Rachel as a survivor, or as a practitioner, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Rachel is also available to speak to communities and groups about her work at no charge! You can also visit Rachel’s practitioner page with The Breathe Network here!