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Dealing with Trauma

"My 15–year–old daughter was raped 8 months ago and is going through Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She is in a psychiatric hospital right now. How can I help her when she comes home?"

A. My prayers go out to your daughter and your family. Rape is a horrific act of violence and unfortunately the impact of this assault can ripple through your lives for years to come. At the same time, you are wise to help your daughter get the intensive therapy she needs and to recognize that her healing process won't be over when she leaves the hospital. Your efforts now will go a long way toward helping all of you move into the future with hope and the promise of wholeness.

There are several ways you can be active in your daughter's continued recovery.

  • Meet with her inpatient psychotherapist to set up an adequate plan of outpatient counseling, family therapy (if needed), and support for her transition. Many adolescents have a terrible post–hospitalization transition and relapse if this critical factor is missed. Remember that your daughter won't come home "cured." She has taken an important step, but this is a long journey that will demand patience, understanding, and compassion from the people who love her.
  • Gather a variety of soothing tools—her favorite books, a cozy blanket, her stuffed animals (if she still has any), pillows, music—and ask her if she'd like any of these things with her in the hospital. These comfort items can be a great help in dealing with PTSD when used on a daily basis. When she gets home, make sure to create a safe haven for her somewhere in the house; a place where she can rest, cry, read, or pray.
  • Let her know you are ready to listen. Set up a regular time each week when the two of you can go on a short outing or just hang out together at home. (No TV, though. This is time to talk and connect.) Having relaxed time together reassures her that she is loved.
  • Check out your affection quotient. Be at least as affectionate as you were before the rape. It can feel counterintuitive to touch someone who has been physically assaulted, but touch is an essential part of the recovery process. Physical affection reassures her that you don't see her as damaged or dirty. At the same time, be respectful of any physical boundaries she sets. In time, she will become more comfortable with being touched.
  • Compliment her regularly on her abilities, intelligence, spirit, and appearance.
  • Consider taking a self–defense course together soon (perhaps a few months after she returns home). Developing physical strength and defense strategies often empower girls.
  • Read the book The Gift of Fear (Dial) by Gavin DeBecker. Consider talking with your daughter's therapist about how you might share some of the ideas in the book with your daughter. The ideas here will help your daughter re–learn to trust her instincts and discover new ways for protecting herself.
  • Be prepared for her to have panic attacks or anxiety when she runs into people or locations connected to the rape. Be sure she is exposed to these only under the guidance of her therapist and with a supportive companion.
  • Pray with and for your daughter. Be open to her questions about God's place in all of this and seek pastoral counseling together if she seems to be moving toward a faith crisis. Nearly everyone who goes through a trauma has doubts and questions about God's sovereignty, so be ready to let her talk through these matters of faith.

Karen L. Maudlin, Psy.D., is the mother of two and a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in marriage and family therapy. She is the author of Sticks and Stones (W).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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