News & Resources

Strength at the End

Overcoming Abuse through Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Kayla is an inspiring young woman.

A junior at a prestigious university, she is majoring in cross-cultural psychology, and her studies have taken her to New Zealand, Samoa, and Vanuatu. She is not much for math, but organic chemistry is no problem, and she has her eye on medical school. Outside of class, she keeps things calm and under control in her dorm as a resident advisor.

“But what you see is not what always was,” says Kayla. “Imagine a child who has been neglected and abandoned, soul broken, hurt in every way imaginable, and accustomed to it. That was me.”

Kayla was sexually abused by her mother’s husband as a child. Hidden for years, the abuse finally came to light when Kayla was in seventh grade. The Department of Social Services intervened, telling her mother that Kayla could not remain in the same house as the man who abused her. She chose to turn Kayla out of the house.

Kayla was taken in by family friends—whom she now calls her parents—and they brought her to the Center for Child & Family Health for treatment of the trauma caused by her sexual abuse. Her therapist was Rebecca Hubbard—or “Ms. Rebecca” as Kayla calls her—and together they began the process of Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

“The first thing Ms. Rebecca did was just teach me to feel again,” says Kayla. Children who are traumatized teach themselves to push all emotions as far inside as possible. Treatment begins with tapping into the hurt and anger a little at a time, so that it can be dealt with.

Once she learned to let her emotions surface, Kayla and Rebecca worked on coping techniques—from breathing and meditation to categorizing her thoughts and making choices on how to respond to them. Finally, it was time for Kayla to re-write the story of her abuse in a way that led to healing. For this, she did something that Rebecca had never seen: she created an enormous visual collage.

To Kayla, the collage is the true picture of her abuse and her recovery. “When my [adopted] mom reads my trauma narrative,” she says, “she is filled with anger and just wants to break down and cry. But when she sees the collage, she sees the full transformation. She sees the strength at the end.”

Kayla has big plans for the future. She has her eye on Carolina for medical school and dreams of earning a Ph.D. Study abroad whetted her appetite for travel, and she is already making her list of destinations. But she knows that the abuse she experienced will go with her into each new phase of her life. “That’s the worst part,” she says, “it’s a permanent part of who I am.”

She also knows that she is equipped to face it. Asked about the most enduring effect of her therapy with Rebecca, she says, “Knowing that I have done hard, gut-wrenching work and knowing that I am going to keep doing it.” And that is her hope for a healthy future.

Posted on November 18, 2014