When and When to Not to Tap on Sexual Trauma
Sex. There we go, I said it. The topic is everywhere. It can be the source of some of the greatest joy, pleasure and connection a person can experience. It can also cause some of the deepest and most profound pain and suffering one can imagine. This is true both in the present moment and in the recollection of a past event. When sex, or sexually related events “go bad,” their ongoing effects can wreak a lifetime of havoc on physical, emotional and spiritual realms.
In the past we have discussed how sexuality, in all its diversity, can bring about profound connection to oneself and to other(s), this article is not about that.
This article is about dealing with the dark side of sex, aka sexual trauma. It is also about the place where sexual trauma and tapping converge. It is about how and when to use EFT (and when NOT to) with regard to helping yourself or helping others to heal from the effects of such trauma. This is a sensitive topic, we know. We promise that this article will not be graphic, but still, please proceed with caution and remember to resource yourself by tapping on yourself if it is a triggering issue for you.
Statistics estimated that 1 out of every 5 women in the US have experienced rape (1) (and that 30% of those were aged 11-17), that 64% of those women’s perpetrators were their partners (2), and that from our experience, we would estimate that most women (and more men than you would expect) have experienced some form of sexual trauma in their lives. This is a pervasive issue that affects the ability for a person to have a healthy and pleasurable sex life. It can also have negative effects on many aspects of one’s life including the ability to express ones needs and desires in life in general, a sense of self-worth and self-worth, the capacity to be an empathetic and compassionate person who can have close relationship and even one’s ability to succeed in business, parenting skills.
Can You Tap On Your Own Sexual Trauma?
Let’s start off by saying this. The impact of sexual trauma can be debilitating and can lead to a wide range of life-altering consequences; from healed trauma to “forgotten” memories, from post-traumatic stress to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; severe Depression, phobic and anxiety disorders and more. We will be very clear here. Should you suspect that you or your client be suffering from any of these conditions that warrant such diagnoses, please refer them to a licensed mental health professional. Sexual trauma is almost always a Big T Trauma that you should NOT WORK ON YOURSELF. It typically involves a break in expectations, feelings of helplessness, isolation and powerlessness to stop. These feelings commonly result in a Freeze response that has tremendous ramifications neurophysiologically. You DO NOT decide one day to “heal yourself” and start to tap on “the time at the college frat party that…” Re-traumatization is a real possibility that can do further damage. Now you might say that it wasn’t THAT BIG a deal, not like what others have had happen to them. This is still very dangerous territory, because often in order to move on with our lives, we attempt to minimize traumatic events to put them behind us. It is very common for someone to think a tappable incident is a small thing and once the trauma capsule is opened it is MUCH BIGGER than we originally thought and then we are unable to self-regulate ourselves, resulting in emotional hyper-arousal and again, re-traumatizing ourselves by living through the trauma all over again. All that being said, it is our STRONG recommendation that you never attempt to use EFT on your own sexual trauma, no matter how skilled and EFT practitioner you may be.
Can You Tap on a Client’s Sexual Trauma?
We understand that these are our opinions on this matter, but having specialized in the field of working with sexual trauma, the recommendations come from having worked with hundreds of women and men who have lived through varying degrees of such trauma. Anyone who uses EFT or Tapping with the victims of sexual trauma needs to have a strong background experience in trauma work. Even as a licensed mental health care worker, specialized training is necessary. A knowledge of somatic trauma release techniques (as taught in the Tapping Out of Trauma online course) is crucially important in our opinion, whether it be EFT or other such methodologies. Whether or not an EFT practitioner/coach should even be working on this issue is a very important question. The clear answer is that if the traumatic experience is very recent and the “experience” contacts you for tapping, it is our recommendation that you immediately utilize your referral resource list so that appropriate legal and therapeutic interventions can be implemented immediately. This is why every practitioner should have this resource list created in advance of such a scenario. It is our recommendation that any tapping work be done in conjunction and collaboration with a licensed mental health care professional – period.
However, what if a 50 year-old woman comes in with relationship challenges and in her 2nd or 3rd session reveals that “relationship intimacy issues” have plagued her entire life? She brings up “the time that her uncle inappropriately….” What then? Does this require a referral? The decision of whether or not to tap with a person on an old sexually traumatic event lies within the self-reflection and decision-making process of the practitioner. Questions one must ask oneself include: How comfortable am I in working with this area? Can I stay grounded and effective or is it a personal issue that I could be triggered with? How experienced and knowledgeable am I in working with trauma? How skillful am I in regulating a client if they go into extreme hyper-arousal with full blown emotional expression and potential abreaction? Has the client received therapy/worked extensively on this issue previously or is this the first time it is being explored? All of these are the kind of questions that a practitioner must ask oneself before going down this potentially slippery path. They must make sure that they remain not only in integrity with their own skills, but also that they minimize any risk of re-traumatization of a client.
In summary, the final and most important credo with regard to working with sexual trauma to follow is to Do No Harm. While that may seem obvious and you might think to yourself, I would NEVER intentionally harm myself or a client, harm happens. We have seen too many individuals been harmed by well-intentioned but ill-trained practitioners. Whatever your vocational status, before working in this arena, please consider getting sufficient trauma training and never go where your gut (and mind) tells you to not go.
Alina Frank and Craig Weiner
Co-Creators of the online webinar training: www.tappingoutoftrauma.com (new course begins each Spring and Fall with CEs approved by NASW)
- Centers for Disease Control, Facts at a Glance 2012 www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention
- Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey, U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs 810 Seventh Street N.W. Washington, DC 20531, Patricia Tjaden Nancy Thoennes, Nov. 2000.