Drawing from the Well: Women's Spiritual Experiences in Healing from Child Sexual Abuse
Wylie, Jill Louise
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The prevalence of child sexual abuse remains high with girls 1.5 to 3 times more likely to be victims compared to boys. In addition to psychological and emotional challenges, this abuse can lead to spiritual difficulties that impact survivors’ ability to find meaning in their life, find a sense of purpose, experience hope or believe in a world that is just. Spirituality can facilitate healing and this study contributes to that knowledge base by exploring women’s own perspectives. The purpose of this qualitative narrative study is to understand, from women’s perspectives, the role of spiritual experiences in their healing from the impacts of child sexual abuse. Spiritual experiences were defined as any experiences that have a different reality or feeling compared to our usual everyday reality that may seem extraordinary or unexplainable, or very ordinary yet meaningful. Twenty in-depth individual interviews were conducted with ten women survivors of child sexual abuse. Narrative analysis methods were used to derive key themes that represent participants’ perspectives of how spiritual experiences enhance healing. Results of this study show that spiritual experiences opened doorways to self, shifted energy, expanded perspective, revealed truths, connected to the present moment, created possibilities of the positive and were an enduring source of support and strength. Spiritual experiences create inter-connections between aspects of the self that can simultaneously transcend the self and connect to the larger world thereby unifying each into a greater whole. These impacts prevail even when there is dissonance in the interpretation. Occupations facilitated spiritual experiences by acting as a portal to a spiritual dimension, transcending language and mind, facilitating internal communication, connecting to the body through doing and through innate healing qualities. Engaging in respectful dialogue on spiritual experiences requires reflection and awareness in the use of bias-free language. Health professionals are well situated to address spiritual experiences, using evidence-based practice and an understanding of embodied experience. Occupational therapists have a key role in validating spiritual experiences, facilitating the engagement in spiritual occupations, and providing resources to understand and interpret the experiences.