Q: What are some of the biggest obstacles to dating that you see in people who have a history of being sexual assaulted or sexually abused?
A: It can be difficult to trust one's senses again after a sexual assault or trauma, including how to discern what your instinct may be telling you about a person or a situation. For example, if something feels off when you're meeting someone new, does it have something to do with this new person whom you're talking to; is it something else related to past trauma that's triggering a negative response for you, or is it something completely unrelated? I generally advise folx to pay attention if something feels off about a person, situation or interaction, and to keep paying attention to that feeling and see how it unfolds - if it changes, fades, waxes or wanes - and how the feeling may relate to the context of a situation or type of interaction before making a major decision or commitment involving a partner. It can also be helpful to monitor for any mood changes, addictive or compulsive behaviors that may arise in the aftermath of an assault. Oftentimes, folx who struggle with addiction have experienced a signficant trauma or multiple traumas, with the addiction or compulsive behavior emerging as a way to cope with the emotional pain of the trauma.
Q: Has 2020, in particular, affected dating for victims of sexual assault?
A: Dating via video chat has been a challenge for most in 2020. Someone I know recently made the point that it's helpful to be able to see how a potential love interest interacts with others in a public setting, such as wait staff at a restaurant, in order to better understand the person's character, and this is an element that's been mostly taken away in 2020. (Though I suppose you could potentially make a similar judgment based on an individual's response to the pandemic, such as whether they practice safety precautions out of care for others.) I've also heard it said that this year's compulsory social distancing and quarantining at home have been helpful in creating time and space for recovery depending on what resources are available and how one's responsibilities have shifted in 2020.
At the same time, others have certainly struggled with the isolation of this year and being forced to be alone with one's thoughts and feelings, particularly if it's within a setting or environment that is stress-inducing. We've heard a lot about heightened tensions in people's homes and among families this year, increased incidence of domestic violence, and decreased access to resources that are built-in to places like schools or community centers. These issues have posed huge challenges to folx who were already in tenuous situations or facing chronic stressors such as poverty or a disability.
Q: How do you get into or back into dating after being sexually assaulted?
A: It can take some time to rebuild a sense of trust and safety in the world and with others after a sexual trauma, and this process looks different for each individual. Not pressuring oneself to jump back on the dating wagon within a certain time frame is tantamount to healing. Oftentimes, some trauma work in therapy may need to come first before feeling comfortable with dating and sexual contact again. It can also be helpful to plan a date in advance and coordinate with a friend for a safety check-in at some point during or after the date. I also work with clients to practice awareness of potential red flags in a new partner such as not respecting others' boundaries.
Q: What dating support can people find after a sexual assault experience?
A: There are some good resources for recovery from sexual assault within the Philadelphia area at https://healthymindsphilly.org/en/resources-sexual-assault/ A support group can also be a great place to connect with and learn from others who have been through similar experiences. Psychology Today's website has a search engine for support groups and treatment centers where you can filter by zip code and insurance accepted.
Gina Cardillo's, MA, ATR-BC, LPC, bio:
My name is Gina Cardillo, and I am a licensed professional counselor and board certified art therapist based in Philadelphia, PA. I have worked and volunteered in mental healthcare for over ten years in a variety of settings, including inpatient, partial programming and outpatient treatment, serving a diverse range of clients from ages 5 through 80+. In my current practice, I work primarily with adolescents and adults struggling with a variety of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, grief, relationship problems and trauma-related disorders, and offer a warm, eclectic, person-centered approach to my clients.
In addition to talk therapy, I incorporate art therapy into my work which provides a non-verbal avenue of expression for when there are no words to define our experience or for when those experiences have gone unspoken. Of the many benefits of art therapy, is the increased access to the parts of the brain associated with emotions and memories which can be harder to reach through words alone. Art therapy also provides an invaluable opportunity to reconnect with one's inborn capacity for curiosity, experimentation and play, all of which can lead to useful guidance and insight within the therapeutic process.
I also offer EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing), a relatively rapid treatment that uses bilateral stimulation to access and reprocess distressing or traumatic experiences that contribute to current problematic behaviors and beliefs; similarly to what naturally happens during REM sleep. By identifying, reprocessing and resolving distressing memories from our past, we can establish a greater sense of wellness, internal control and personal freedom in the present.
If you'd like to learn more about my work, please feel free to check out my website at www.ginacardillolpc.com or my Instagram account, @wanderingphillycat (with "CAT" standing for creative arts therapist).