Mental Health Articles: Rape Trauma Syndrome

Alternative Treatment of Rape Trauma

In addition to any therapy, the patient should learn deep muscle relaxation or progressive relaxation. These techniques may help the victim overcome anxiety attacks, help them fall asleep, decrease severity of crying outbursts and headaches.(Rosenhan et al, 1989).

Rational-emotive therapy

Rational-emotive therapy may be used to overcome the feelings that the victim will never get over this trauma, and the feeling that anybody around may attack her. Principles of RET may also be applied in assertion training. (Rosenhan et al., 1989)

Group therapy

The effects of group therapy are very beneficial for rape victims. Many rape crisis centers are based on crisis theory and supportive psychotherapy groups. They rely on dissemination of information, active listening and emotional support (Resick et al., 1988). Group sharing of experience may affect patients' numbness, isolation and fear of isolation. (Rosenhan et al., 1989) Cryer and Beutler (1980) found that most members of the group improved significantly in measures of fear and anxiety. Supportive psychotherapy may include not only exchange of feelings, perceptions and support, but also an educational phase. The victims may be given the information concerning fear and anxiety. Members of the support group select topics they want to discuss. (Resick et al., 1988) Often they would include fear, anxiety, reactions of family and friends, their own reaction to rape and to stimuli that remind them of the trauma. Group therapy may also be combined with art therapy. McKay (1989) describes how victims of sexual assault managed to overcome their harmed feelings through face-panting, story telling, puppet making and autobiographical performance. Victims in this group started to talk about generalized harassment and assault and came to recognize, relive and afterwards to ease some of the painful effects of their experience.


Hypnosis is another option in finding ways to help victims of sexual assault. Under hypnosis, victims may find relief of fears, feeling of helplessness, anxiety and social isolation. (Ebert, 1988). Hutchinson (1986) suggests that feminist self-hypnosis group helped victims to remove their false sense of guilt, and enabled them to understand the social context in which the assault occurred.

Hypnosis may also be used in fusion with family therapy. Somer (1990), for example, tried brief simultaneous hypnotherapy with a rape victim and her husband. Hypnosis allowed the victim to share her experience with her husband, who was otherwise too upset and enraged whenever the victim wanted to share her rape-related feelings. The traumatic scene was reshaped under hypnosis and the result was rescuing behavior on the part of the husband and expression of anger toward the rapist. This technique helped the husband to deal in better ways with his anger and the victim to decrease her feeling of abandonment.

Family/couple therapy

Family or couple therapy by itself is also an appropriate way to deal with rape victims. Since the reaction of significant others is often blaming the victim, sometimes even rejection, the members of the victim's family should participate in the therapy. Frequent responses by partners and parents are feelings of helplessness, anger, frustration and homicidal fantasies toward the rapist. (Emm, McKenry, 1988). For these reasons, it may be beneficial to participate in therapy in order to be able to reorganize and rectitude the family's integrity. In family/couple therapy, the family members may discuss cognitive and emotional components of their responses to the trauma. Feinauer and Hippolite (1987) used short metaphoric stories and symbolic rituals, in which each individual member and the family as whole could reexperience and decide how they would respond to the trauma.

Existential therapy

Later in therapy, principles of existential psychology may be applied to help the victim to overcome her helplessness, feelings of loss of control, and to find meaning in life even with such traumatic experience. Patient's numbness may be reduced through taking responsibility.

Humanistic approach

Across all possible therapies, a humanistic approach should be taken. The patient needs understanding, acceptance and support from the therapist. The client-centred therapy would help the victim to express herself, to consider different responses and choose the most appropriate one.

Psychodynamic therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is not appropriate treatment for rape victims, since the questions about childhood experiences would impose the blame on the victim. The only exception may be a patient who experienced not only rape, but also some sexual assault in her childhood. In this case, psychodynamic therapy might help her; however, even with such patient, it should not be employed at the beginning of the therapy. Rather, after the victim has dealt to certain degree with the rape, the therapist may go back in her childhood to deal with the past experience. When talking about Freudian view point, sublimation used as defense mechanism against the trauma should be mentioned. Many rape victims give classes of self-defense for rape victims and other women, or volunteer in rape crisis centers. This is an example of sublimation, because helping others serves them to overcome their own anxiety and fear.


Comparative studies have shown that there is no significant difference between assertion training, stress inoculation and supportive psychotherapy in terms of treatment outcome (Resick, 1988). Frank et al. (1988) who compared cognitive behavior therapy and systematic desensitization did not find any of them superior. So far, it may be concluded that any therapy is better than no treatment at all, and that prevention is better than the best therapy. Importantly, the victim should seek help immediately after the assault.

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