new mental health issues for psychologists
10 mins read

new mental health issues for psychologists

The effects of the #MeToo movement in France seem to have redoubled in recent months. Gérard Depardieu, Benoît Jacquot, or Gérard Miller cases, revelations of sexist and sexual violence are increasing in the world of media and cinema.

As for mental health professionals, many of them have noticed an increase in consultations concerning sexual violence in recent years. A recent report from the Ministry of the Interior also highlights a particularly worrying increase: in 2023, 114,100 complaints of sexual violence were recorded by the gendarmerie and police services in France.

If the testimonies of public figures surely contribute to the liberation of speech and listening, it still remains to increase general awareness of the issues for the people concerned to break their silence and the responsibility of psychological care professionals to do so. sustain.

Read more: Opera, a universe conducive to sexist and sexual violence?

Violence silences

The psychological trauma linked to sexual violence has something universal: it ravages intimacy and exposes one to astonishment, confusion and silence.

When they decide to talk about it, women sometimes ask in consultation who benefits from their silence: the one or those who have left them speechless, or in unknown proportions, them too. “Is this real?” “, ” Is it serious ? “, ” Why me ? ”, are recurring questions.

“To believe yourself, you still have to be believed”, the committed and moving speech by Judith Godrèche – César 2024 – CANAL+.

Talking about it late corresponds to the necessary temporality of someone who initially did not want to believe it and who preferred denial. Sometimes, it is at the cost of suffering from derealization, loss of anchoring in reality, and depersonalization, a way of being detached from what one is experiencing.

For psychologists and psychiatrists, studying the symptoms of this dissociative state, of living like one’s life, can prove complicated. It varies according to surges of anxiety, depressive moments, outbursts of emotion, or even nightmares.

Trauma, the psychological wound that sexual violence produces, is relative to the unspeakable. For those affected, it is aggregated to take responsibility for the guilt of the perpetrator of violence. Some isolate themselves, change their social environment. Without trust, their emotional life is reduced.

Sometimes they keep the memory of a detached moment, sometimes they experience reminiscences. They are exposed to returns of the repressed by reproducing in spite of themselves the scenario that they seek to forget, or even when others express themselves on this subject.

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Different types of violence

Assaults by a stranger are far from being the most common. More often, people describe relationships of trust – with friends or colleagues – where they were relegated to the status of an object: for example by going further than they would have liked in relationships of control, which they had often not identified as such.

This results in the memory of submission. And allegiance can be maintained by fears of retaliation: revenge pornblackmail, disqualification, harassment in a school or professional environment.

Harassment: Victims of revenge porn are still not taken seriously.

Influential aggressors know that they can ostracize their victims who are already partially locked in shame or astonishment.

Predation objectifies and dehumanizes those who often end up denying themselves.

Read more: #MeTooGarçons: “80% of violence takes place or begins before the age of 18”

Heal yourself by talking

The challenge of therapy is to put meaning where it is lacking, to formulate the unspeakable, to exteriorize by speaking. These people describe incentives to “turn the page” that burden them more than help them.

In therapy, the use of “I” makes it possible to cross the border between what the other has imposed on them and to what extent they have tolerated it. Because when consent has been subverted, love turns into hatred against oneself, in the form, for example, of endangerment, risky sexual relations, scarification or taking psychotropic drugs (alcohol, drugs).

For some, it is necessary to distinguish between having loved the one who made them suffer, from liking to suffer or from thinking of themselves as masochists. It is only by allowing them this distinction that mental health professionals prevent them from reliving what they fear: a situation of abandonment.

This also leads them to question the trust they have placed. Could they prevent what happened to them?

This is how they can regain their desire, their integrity, and the control they want to regain over their lives.

Women use the legal register to describe what they have experienced. Many do not file a complaint, however, as they fear disqualification of their approach, and the consolidation of their distress by a lack of institutional support.

Empowering professionals: how?

The practice of psychologists and psychiatrists is being disrupted by these contemporary issues. Specialists are mobilized by people who are victims of sexist and sexual violence who ask them to be attentive to these societal changes, and in particular to hear to what extent reality – and not their fantasies – has affected them. Sometimes, the machismo and lack of training of certain professionals can lead to the victim being held responsible for their trauma because they were previously fragile, when these symptoms are indeed post-traumatic.

In therapy, people need to be supported in their approach in order to understand what has happened without their knowledge.

They can extract from themselves the destructiveness that they have internalized and decorrelate pleasure and violence. Speaking, naming things, prevents us from reversing the sense of guilt. Some victims describe being torn between the certainty of having been outraged, while feeling partially guilty about it.

Other women choose to publicly expose what they suffered, sometimes only after the facts have been prescribed. This approach sometimes takes on an explosive character. It’s another way to escape coercive control, especially from someone whose influence and protection system silences you.

Read more: Sexist and sexual violence in French cinema: a “cultural exception”?

Because they also rightly fear being once again disqualified, isolated, pathologized in their speaking out. Except when they are surrounded by others whose experiences they share.

Some victims associate it with a desire for revenge and the desire to help others cope better.

Editor and writer Vanessa Springora measured the difference between being heard by thousands of people, and by the competent authorities, looking for other possible victims to move the cases forward. Lawyer Camille Kouchner first kept silent about “the one who taught her so much”, even if it meant betraying herself, then wanted to raise awareness among as many people as possible about the damage caused by sexual violence.

Vanessa Springora: her book and collective awareness – Excerpt.

A personal and political repair

The latency time some people have to talk about what they have suffered can be explained by an amnesic reaction whose duration varies, or by putting the traumatic event aside to continue living, or even by refusal to think of themselves as victims in a system of domination.

Others break free from patriarchy with difficulty and very slowly emancipate themselves from their alienation.

In this context, exposing oneself amounts to throwing the intimate into the sea. Some also deplore a posteriori a lack of echo.

To protect themselves, some opt for asexuality, others change their sexual orientation, or innovate in their love life with new methods of commitment.

Public recognition of the system of domination, however, relieves victims of sexual violence and allows them to move forward by recovering their integrity. Because sometimes the word resonates: to the point of modifying the legislation, of changing the status of the artist above the law, or of advancing the public debate.

The revolution in the relationship with consent has allowed everyone to question what they experience, including men.

Today, clinicians must take into account the freedom of speech as an act that is both ethical and political in order to make gender-based and sexual violence a public health problem.

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