Helping abuse victims leave their trauma behind in Collier County

Reporter: Nicole Gabe Writer: Paul Dolan
Published: Updated:

Therapy is used to help people cope and recover.

It’s essential when it comes to helping victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.

A group of licensed therapists in Collier County uses a specific education form to help survivors leave their trauma behind.

“Domestic violence, and certainly human trafficking are considered repeated, severe trauma, the participants that come they need stabilization in many areas,” said Natalia Gonzales, a licensed therapist and clinical director at the Shelter for Abused Women and Children.

The shelter, in Collier County, offers a number of resources and programs to victims, including housing, court advocates and financial and job resources.

But even after all of this, survivors can feel lost.

“After they go through outreach, with resource management, and other services that we provide, what’s really left is working on some of the emotional distress that’s left,” Gonzalez said. “Our goal is to help people process versus just talking about it … We don’t just do counseling, it’s not just a conversation of oh, how you feeling, how was your week. This is deeper, we use, we use a hidden gem.”

That gem is a form of therapeutic education.

“It’s an array of techniques that really get in there and go to the traumatic network, open it up. And they really help the brain reshuffle the information and find completely new meaning on it,” she said.

Once a survivor signs up, they receive a text that connects them with a therapist.

That’s where they’ll answer a set of open-ended questions, like “Tell me a similarity between you and the person who abused you.”

Gonzalez said the survivor answers the question over and over again until they find closure.

“A lot of the people that we see have received some form of counseling or therapy in the past. And usually the comment is, this is strange, what is this? At the beginning, they could be a little skeptical because it is a bit bizarre. And then they’re like, I don’t know what this is. But I feel amazing. I feel great,” Gonzalez said.

She acknowledges the skeptics.

But said the results are proof.

They use an evidence-based tool called OQ Analyst to track patient progress.

“We know, is this person getting better? Or are they getting worse? Or have they plateaued? And we thought we could use other modalities that could potentially help move the process along,” Gonzalez said.

Since 2015, Gonzalez and her team have helped more than 400 survivors get back to living a normal life.

“It’s amazing knowing that they’re out there and that they don’t have to worry about that nightmare, that anxiety, thinking about that thing and ruminating over the same thing over and over again. Now they’re thinking about what’s next,” she said.

Gonzalez said the length of the sessions can range depending on a patient’s performance.

Survivors can answer the questions on their own time or in-person with a therapist.

If you need help or know someone in an abusive relationship, contact the domestic violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

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