In the delicate interplay between mind, body, and spirit, sexual trauma leaves indelible imprints, shaping the lives of survivors with its haunting touch. Yet, we see how resilient and capable, how ready the body-mind is to heal.
Psychedelics—like an alchemical elixir—uniquely have the potential to unravel knots and mend fragments which are otherwise viewed as unchangeable, offering solace to those who intimately know the realms of suffering.
When trauma alters our neurobiology and physiology, the very fabric of life begins to subtly (or overtly) reflect what happened to us rather than who we truly are and what deepest desires we hold in life.
Therapeutic psychedelic use reveals the resilience of the human spirit, the profound depths from which survivors rise, and the grace that unfolds when the psyche is given another chance to rewrite its story.
We acknowledge the delicacy of this topic and will approach this article with a thorough representation and a reverence for the deeper processes of healing that can take place for survivors of sexual trauma.
Here we will discuss potential uses for psychedelic therapy in instances of sexual trauma, a look at one person’s profound journey toward healing, and the insights of an interviewed expert on how psychedelics offer a chance for deeper healing.
A Brief Disclaimer
Because of the delicate and intimate nature of this topic, we would like to extend our sympathies to victims of sexual abuse and sexual trauma, and hope to present this topic in the most palatable way.
If you may find the contents of this article triggering, we will be including a brief summary of key points at the end to help readers find important information without having to sift through potentially triggering content.
Furthermore, who should and should not take psychedelics is a complex issue, and for those with severe trauma, psychedelic drugs can be potentially traumatizing if not taken with the right support and in the right setting.
If you have questions about whether or not psychedelics are safe for you specifically based on history, disposition, and needs, speak with us directly and we will be happy to help consult you on making the best decision.
Before we dive in, we did cover the topic of psychedelics for PTSD and Trauma in a previous article, but this piece is specially dedicated to a more specific form of trauma.
Understanding Sexual Trauma
Sexual Abuse Statistics (according to RAINN.org):
- An American is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds
- 1 out of 6 women have been a victim of attempted or completed rape
- 1 in 33 men are a victim of attempted or completed rape
- 9 out of 10 rape victims are women
- 63,000 children a year are victims of sexual abuse
- The other highest populations of assault victims are inmates and military personnel
When it comes to understanding sexual trauma, it’s important to distinguish between childhood sexual abuse and adulthood sexual abuse, because “sexual trauma” encompasses both and all types of sexual assault and sexual violence.
While negative symptoms in victims of sexual trauma have been diagnosed under the label of PTSD for many years, more recently, the diagnosis of Complex PTSD seems to have evolved out of a need for a more general term.
PTSD refers to the traumatization that results from exposure to a traumatic event, however Complex PTSD (C-PTSD for short) refers to traumatization from a series of events or life circumstances.
For victims of childhood sexual abuse, C-PTSD may be a more appropriate title if the abuse happened on many occasions or over a period of time by a family member for instance, while a victim of adult sexual violence from a single event may be diagnosed with PTSD.
The age brackets are not mutually exclusive with the two types of traumatic disorders. For instance, an adult in a long-term abusive relationship can be diagnosed with C-PTSD, and a child who was abused once at school would fall under PTSD.
“Survivors of childhood sexual trauma are at a high risk of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)…the diagnostic criteria for PTSD include exposure to a traumatic event that invokes fear, helplessness, or horror and a range of symptoms, such as reoccurring recollections or dreams of the event, persistent avoidance of all things associated with the trauma, numbing and lack of responsiveness, and increased alertness to perceived threats” (Yuan et al., 2006).
Regardless, there are many comorbidities for PTSD, such as other anxiety disorders, Borderline Personality Disorder, depression, and suicidality.
Childhood sexual trauma specifically is “associated with other personality disorders, including those that are distinguished by enduring patterns of distrust and suspiciousness (Paranoid Personality Disorder), grandiosity and need for admiration (Narcissistic Personality Disorder), social inhibition and feelings of inadequacy (AVoidant Personality Disorder), or submissive and clinging behavior (Dependent Personality Disorder)” (Yuan et al., 2006).
For this reason, here is a list of conditions we’ve already covered in previous articles, which could be co-occurring with sexual trauma PTSD:
Scientific research has already expanded on each of these issues as people are becoming increasingly interested in the therapeutic potential of psychedelic substances.
Current Scientific Research on Therapeutic Psychedelic Applications For Sexual Trauma
A 2021 trial by Healy and colleagues found that therapeutic use of psychedelics was associated with lower instances of negative symptoms associated with complex trauma and a decrease in “internalized shame.”
“Child maltreatment negatively affects the formation of internal schemata of self and other during development, leading to negative adaptations in self-concept and social cognition,” they wrote.
When abuse occurs in formative years, it may be a profound disruption to the evolution of the foundational perspectives that develop throughout childhood regarding the world, others, and the self.
“Altering maladaptive schemata of self and other implicated in negative self-concept and impaired social cognition may be a central mechanism for reducing posttraumatic stress symptoms,” they continued.
While we aren’t able to rewrite the history of our lives, psychedelics may be able to help us change our foundational, existential worldviews and maladaptive patterns that were formed out of abuse.
A last interesting point we will mention is something we covered in our article about psychedelics and relationship dynamics. Use of psychedelics has been associated with lower instances of domestic violence.
While this doesn’t specifically apply to our topic, it does beg the question, “Can psychedelics decrease abusive behaviors through increasing empathy?”
This has massive implications for society at large if research shows that these entheogenic substances both can heal victims of abuse and mitigate abusive behavior to begin with.
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A Story of Hope
We wanted to share one person’s inspiring and hopeful story of drastic recovery from sexual trauma PTSD for those who feel crippled by the things which happened to them in the past.
As a brief disclaimer, this story was shared with us via Reddit, and we will be omitting historical details to avoid sharing any overtly triggering content.
For the sake of context, a history of childhood violence and sexual abuse were shared with us, and they were brave enough to open up about the ways in which their experiences shaped their teen years and early years of adulthood.
“My story was incredibly difficult. Psychedelics are the reason I am alive. I do not advocate them for everyone, but I think for people with trauma especially, they are incredible tools for [re]wiring the mind,” they shared.
“I was absolutely crippled by PTSD, and I had been hospitalized at a mental hospital. The thing about PTSD is the flashbacks, the constant living in a loop, the anxiety, and the god awful panic attacks. I had flashbacks constantly.”
This rewiring of the mind refers to the ability of psychedelics to increase both neuroplasticity and neurogenesis in the brain, highlighting the brain’s ability to adapt and create new responses to stimuli as well as produce new neurons.
“I basically was able to detach from the traumatic event and look at it through a different perspective entirely. That different angle and perspective allowed me to love myself, forgive myself, and move on.”
According to their report, a single dose of MDMA changed their life and their relationship to the traumatic past.
“MDMA gave me a new perspective I believe because of the chemicals being released into my body. I felt so in love with the world, I was able to fall in love with myself a bit more.”
“When I tried MDMA, I suddenly wasn’t so…scared of myself, scared of living. This armor, this fight or flight mechanism in me had finally come down and I could breathe.
More amazing than that was when I had found myself having a flashback on MDMA, I could, for the first time, view those memories through a lens of love and acceptance rather than terror,” they said.
While MDMA isn’t technically a psychedelic in the classical sense (and does interact with the body in distinct ways when compared to serotonergic drugs like magic mushrooms), it is being intensively researched for PTSD patients specifically.
“When I did have a flashback during that trip, I was able to heal myself through feeling and emotion, rather than logically with the mind. I believe that deep healing is processed through emotion, not logic.”
MDMA is known for its euphoric and heart-opening effects, in which the user feels greater connection and empathy with their environment, broadening the self-perception to encompass a larger physical and emotional space.
Being able to connect in a loving way to ourselves and the world around us can be profoundly healing for those who developed a frightening image of the world at a young age.
“I went back through my mind and took power back over the young kid who lived through hell…Since then, I’ve gotten my life together. I’m thriving in college and hoping to pursue a career in psychology in order to help others heal from their trauma.”
We would like to extend our gratitude for this beautiful story being shared with us and hope that it inspires hope in our readers.
Summarizing This Article
- Victims with sexual trauma either were victims of adulthood sexual violence or childhood sexual abuse, with the trauma resulting from either a single event or pattern of abuse
- Victims are typically diagnosed with PTSD or Complex PTSD depending on if the abuse was acute or repeated
- Victims of sexual abuse commonly develop other personality, mood, and cognitive disorders if the trauma is left unresolved
- Psychedelic research has explored many of the comorbidities associated with sexual trauma, which we cover in past articles (these are linked under the “Understanding Sexual Trauma” section
- Direct and specific research on victims of childhood or adulthood sexual abuse and psychedelic use has yet to be conducted, however there are studies available which could suggest strong therapeutic benefits for victims
- One anecdotal story of an abuse victim showed the profound healing potential of a single experience on MDMA
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From support around preparation to meetings for integration services to in-ceremony harm reduction and general aid, your facilitator will be there with you so you can focus on your deepest healing with no distractions.