Ever felt like you're still re-experiencing symptoms of the original trauma? Emotional memories of past abuse can be triggered by anything from specific locations or movies to even physical sensations in your body.
"Some survivors of domestic violence find that certain sights, sounds, tastes, or smells can trigger painful, intrusive memories of their trauma," says Whilde.
The good news is, a therapist can help you to identify what your triggers are — as well as ways to manage your emotional responses to them and self-soothe when they come up.
Clearly, there is a multitude of benefits to pursuing therapy after an abusive relationship — but doing so isn't always financially feasible for everyone. If that's the case for you, experts say there are a number of ways you can go about getting the support you need and deserve.
Dr. Feuereisen recommends calling local clinics to find out if they offer sliding scale services. You have nothing to lose by contacting therapists who specialize in trauma and abusive relationships, and asking them if they offer income-based rates or do pro-bono work — in fact, mental health professionals are strongly encouraged to take on at least a few pro bono clients for ethical reasons. Dr. Feuereisen also notes that many universities have clinics where graduate students are learning to be psychologists, and the sliding scale fees are often as low as $1 per session. Even though you'll be seeing a therapist-in-training, there's typically excellent supervision in those situations, according to Dr. Feuereisen.
Many community centers, hospitals, and places of worship also sometimes have free or low-cost counseling services, and some organizations host peer-support groups for people who are facing similar issues.
Another thing worth looking into is whether or not your company has an employee assistance program. If it does, you may qualify for a certain number of free counseling sessions.
Whether you need help exploring low-cost therapy options or creating a self-care plan that works for you, advocates at The Hotline are available 24/7 via phone (1-800-799-7233) and online chat to offer support. They may be able to connect you with free services for you in your community, including individual professional counseling specifically for survivors of abuse. The Hotline also has a directory of other organizations that may be able to refer you to free or low-cost therapy, such as domestic violence coalitions.
If you to decide to seek out therapy, Dr. Klapow, Whilde, and Dr. Feuereisen highly recommend looking specifically for a provider with experience and training in treating abuse. Experts agree, though, that the most important thing is finding a therapist who you trust, and who makes you feel safe, heard, and understood.
There are many reasons why therapy can be a game-changing next step in moving forward from your abusive relationship. Most importantly, it's a step that signals a powerful shift toward taking your life back. Of course, only you can know when you feel prepared to begin the journey of untangling your experiences with a therapist — but just know that once you do feel ready, there are endless opportunities for healing, regaining hope, and rediscovering yourself on the other side.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org. You can also text "loveis" to 866-331-9474, or call LoveisRespect at 1-866-331-9474.
Dr. Patti Feuereisen, psychotherapist
Peggy Whilde, director of programs at the National Domestic Violence Hotline
Dr. Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist