One of the most common diagnosis following a sexual assault is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This anxiety and depression based disorder can occur after a person experiences a life-threatening event and, at times, continues to reexperience the trauma through nightmares and flashbacks. One step that is usually taken in treatment for PTSD is identifying the triggers in life that cause the nightmares and flashbacks; triggers can be anything (e.g. scents, sounds, images) that triggers the thought of the assault and gives the client a sense of panic as though they were back in the moment.
Another major symptom of PTSD is the sufferer actively avoiding triggers to avoid thinking about the assault. The problem that this can cause is avoidance of a trigger tells the client’s brain that the trigger is something to fear, thus continuing the fear the next time that the trigger is encountered. Therefore, a part of trauma therapy can be intentionally recalling the trauma to help the mind process the event re-teach the brain that thinking about the event alone does not present danger.
However, what happens when treatment becomes a trigger? Many clients express this early in their treatment that they begin to feel anxiety and fear in the hours or minutes leading up to meeting their counselor because their mind has attached that person, or their office, or the smell of the air freshener the counselor uses with having to recall the assault. This trigger, like any other, can decrease if the client re-teaches their mind that sessions are not something to fear. The brain will gradually learn that it can recall the event without being in the same physical danger; the mind might even recode to see the therapy sessions as a place of respite. Unfortunately this can be another part of the process that needs to be pushed through; and a great way of learning to manage this anxiety of coming to counseling is to discuss this with your counselor.