Sexual assault and domestic violence are far more prevalent than you may think. For example, two in five women who live in Texas have experienced sexual assault according the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA). Sexual assault is defined as, “any unwanted, non-consensual sexual contact against any individual by another using manipulation, pressure, tricks, coercion or physical force.” And one organization in Fort Bend County is investing into ground-breaking treatment models for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. The program model is based on a positive reinforcement framework and focuses on brain health after the complex trauma experienced by survivors.
Fort Bend Women’s Center (FBWC) acts as the only domestic violence and sexual assault emergency shelter in Fort Bend County, with a mission to “help survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and their children to achieve safety and self-sufficiency, while striving to prevent violence against women.” In addition to crisis-intervention services, they also offer additional services such as counseling, case management, advocacy, career development and other support services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault both in shelter and non-residentially.
One of FBWC’s most innovative therapies, known as neurofeedback training, is the only of its kind in the United States for survivors. FBWC launched the pilot for this program in 2014, in response to the needs of survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault suffering from traumatic brain injuries. The program has now expanded to include victims experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other brain health issues, such as depression or anxiety.
What Is Neurofeedback Training and How Does It Work?
Neurofeedback training, also known as EEG biofeedback or neurotherapy, involves exercising and training the brain, similar to how working out at a gym trains and exercises our muscles. The neurofeedback training process utilizes the brain’s natural ability to restructure brainwaves, turning them into healthy patterns needed for cognitive functioning and self-regulation.
During therapy sessions, clients have sensors that are placed on the scalp with conductive paste. Clients are then told to relax and watch an animation on the screen as their brainwaves are monitoredAs the brain trends to a healthier state, the individual is rewarded by having the animation continuously move and the music play. Through this operant condition, the brain is gradually trained to function more effectively. Each session lasts for approximately 30 minutes, and each client participates in 30-40 sessions on average.
How Successful is Neurofeedback Training?‘
Statistics from the FBWC program have shown an average 26 percent reduction in disability scores on n the World Health Organization Disability Assessment Schedule and an average 57 percent reduction in score on the DSM-5 Severity Measure* for Depression. Statistics have also shown an average 47 percent reduction in scores on the DSM-5 Severity Measure for Generalized Anxiety Disorder and an average 58 percent reduction scores on the DSM-5 Severity of Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms.
Abeer Monem, Chief Programs Officer for FBWC, believes their neurofeedback program has had a 100 percent success rate among their clients. “We now have a waiting list of over a year to participate in this program,” says Abeer. “Our clients are able to see how much the other survivors are improving and they want to try it too.”
What Makes FBWC Different from Other Organizations?
According to Peggy Wright, Director of Counseling and Sexual Assault Programs for FBWC, the organization makes all their programs and therapies client-centered, versus being resource-centered, and take a trauma-informed care approach. “Between the fear of talking about the trauma they have experienced, to the stigma of being a survivor of sexual or domestic assault, we try to focus on each person’s strengths rather than their limitations,” says Peggy. “We think, what can we do to foster self-confidence? What tools, therapies, and programs can we provide to meet their needs?”
Peggy says the key to taking a trauma-informed approach is by understanding the trauma their clients have experienced and not being judgmental. Trauma can cause physical as well as chemical changes in the brain, and while some can be permanent, the brain is neuroplastic and can be re-trained. “If we can understand why survivors may be behaving the way they are and see it as something physical and tangible that has a scientific explanation, it can become less-stigmatized,” said Peggy.
What is The Link Between Homelessness and Sexual Assault?
Twenty percent of women who are sexual assault or domestic violence survivors struggle to find or keep housing because of sexual violence; and twenty percent of survivors experience homelessness as a result of sexual violence, according to the National Resource Center on Sexual Violence.
According to FBWC, most of their clients have both sexual assault and domestic violence history. “A lot of our clients are actually child sexual abuse survivors, so their trauma started at a really young age,” said Abeer. “This also makes them more likely to experience domestic violence or sexual assault as an adult, and their feelings about this abuse can interfere with motivation, job security, the list goes on.”
When individuals experience sexual or domestic violence in their own home, they may be forced to leave the only place they call home and move into a shelter. “The trauma’s impact on the survivor takes longer to cope with than any stay in a shelter can possibly last; these survivors need longer-term support,” said Peggy. “We focus on building a relationship and trust with each client, and while we don’t neglect traditional services, we want to build on them and offer support tailored specifically to each person we see.”
To learn more about Fort Bend Women’s Center, click here.
If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual or domestic violence, you can call the National Hotline for Domestic Violence at 1-800-799-7233 or visit their website by clicking here.
*The DSM-5 Severity Measure comes from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, which is the taxonomic and diagnostic tool published by the American Psychiatric Association. This measure corresponds closely to the criteria that constitute the disorder definition and are intended to help identify additional areas of inquiry that may guide treatment and prognosis.