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Herman & Wallace Blog

Working with Survivors of Sexual Assault

Lauren Mansell, DPT, CLT, PRPC is the author and instructor of Trauma Awareness for the Pelvic Therapist, a course now available remotely. Lauren's next offering of her course is coming up this May 1-2, 2021

Working with survivors of sexual violence has been the most challenging and rewarding aspect of my pelvic rehabilitative work. I am fortunate to have been trained as a legal and medical advocate for sexual assault survivors and worked within mental health prior to becoming a physical therapist. I hope to give everything I know about being a patient centered trauma aware practitioner. Can we talk about how common sexual violence is within our society and within our work? I can spout the statistics: 1 in 3 females and 1 in 7 males report unwanted sexual attention; 1 in 6 females and 1 in 33 males experience sexual assault.* But in our rooms, sexual violence is pandemic.

Please feel empowered to provide appropriate, trauma-informed support to these patients. It starts with our wellness and self-care. We cannot empower others if we have not empowered ourselves. We don’t have to be perfect. Practice self-forgiveness. Know your triggers. Commit to impeccable self-care. Be well. Keep ourselves safe by practicing empowered choice. If you have empowered choice, you can provide and teach empowered choice to your patients. What is empowered choice? Empowered choice is saying: we don’t do anything you don’t want to do or I don’t do anything I don’t want to do. Ever. Give your patient the power of directing their healing while providing extensive physiology and anatomy education with trauma-focused, patient-centered care. With information, patients choose what they want treated when. And with empowered choice, they tend to choose higher level treatment quicker. Additionally, they may show up to more appointments and, from my experience, they get better faster. I know we all do this with informed consent, but I have found success with being immensely purposeful in repeatedly telling the patient that they are in control of the treatment. Patients are completely in control of the treatment, not to be confused with being in control of me.

After empowered choice, normalizing their experience is valuable for our treatment relationship. This is possibly the saddest part of this work- how normal it is for my patients to have sexually violent experiences. I say over and over how typical it is for patients to have experienced sexual violence and how it negatively affects pelvic function. I also say they don’t need to tell me anything about their trauma and that I don’t require they go to counselling to participate in pelvic rehab. I do however let them know if they want to disclose their traumas or be connected to resources, I will gladly assist in their support. I do let them know that there are times I have to report (I live in a mandated reporting state) and tell them exactly what my rules are. Being clear and informative while being supportive and trauma-informed helps reduce the SHAME patients who experienced sexual violence carry. These patients typically feel embarrassed and ashamed by the abuse perpetrated against them in addition to the physical somatization from the trauma. And that their response during treatment is a normal response to an abnormal situation.

Take care of you. Empowered choice for all involved. Normalize the survivors’ response. Disempower Shame. And join me for Trauma Awareness for the Pelvic Therapist if you want more science and skills for patient care!


* Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, 2018 (2019).

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Department of Education's Changes to Title IX

Last week- on May 6 amid a pandemic- the Department of Education released changes to Title IX. Title IX is a 1972 Civil Rights Act that bans sexual discrimination within the educational system. Sadly, the new provisions within the 2,033 page document include the following changes:

  • Narrows the definition of sexual harassment
  • Reduces options to survivors of sexual assault, dating violence and stalking
  • Reduces liability of colleges and universities
  • Reduces mandated reporting of sexual violence
  • Deregulates federal guidelines to protect sexual violence survivors
  • Changes the ‘standard of proof’ from ‘preponderance’ to ‘clear and convincing’
  • Bolsters protections for perpetrators
  • Allows for live hearings and cross examinations of the assault survivor
  • Only investigates if assault reported to ‘certain people’

23% of undergraduates and 11% of graduate students report having experienced sexual violence, AND we know survivors under-report assaults. We talk extensively about medical and legal considerations for sexual violence survivors in my "Empowering the Sexual Assault Survivor" course. Participants who took my course will need to know those protections we discussed just a few days ago are slated to be rolled back. Today, in my remote course "Trauma Informed Care", we lay the physiological and neurobiological framework for empowering the sexual assault survivor. Following that, in addition to how to continue empowering for survivors, we elaborated on the legal changes listed above.

Outrageously, these Title IX deregulating provisions are to go into effect August 14, 2020 while schools are struggling to keep students safe amid coronavirus pandemic.  Again, let us look at these percentages (23% of undergraduates, and 11% of graduate students) and think about who needs safety and protection.

Schools do have choice in whether they roll back their protections to survivors of sexual violence. If you're looking for ways to help, you may want to reach out to your alma mater and ask what changes they are planning to make in the context of this new deregulation and disempowerment of Title IX protections. Maybe contact your local sexual assault coalition and see how you can become involved.  You could also contact your legislature and/or leave comment on www.regulations.gov (search title IX and education).Empower yourself so that you can empower others! As a physical therapist specialized in pelvic rehabilitation, empowering survivors of sexual violence happens every day in my practice. I hope you feel empowered, supported and successful in doing this challenging work too!

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Covid Coping Strategies

It’s OK to be feeling (insert feeling) right now. (maybe: sad, fearful, angry, denial, numb, anxious, avoidant, bored?)

It’s OK to acknowledge those feelings.

It’s also OK to create a plan and direction about what we may do about our feelings, thoughts, and actions.

We can change how we think, what we do and ultimately how we feel.

Breathe. Place a hand on your chest and a hand on your abdomen. Practice inhaling long and deep as if you were pouring the air into your body- first filling the lower hand and then filling the top hand. Pause for a moment when you feel your canister is full and then exhale slowly (top to bottom or bottom to top- either works fine). I prefer breathing through my nose for inhale and exhale but know if you are congested, mouth breathing is fine or you can inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth- find what works for you. Work on increasing the number counted (silently in your mind) while you inhale, pause briefly and then exhale- making that number count on exhale the same or even longer. Make it a game to see how long and deep your breath can become. Reduce intensity if feeling lightheaded.

Focus on your breath and feel calmness. Return to this breathing whenever you can.

Body Scan/Progressive Relaxation. Take a moment and scan your body for pain or tension. You can start at the top of your body or where your feet are grounded to floor. Notice your body and allow it to be, without judgement. Then starting from the top of your body or the bottom, contract your muscles systematically and then relax. Or focus on the muscle group and allow the muscles to relax and slacken. Maybe send your long, deep breath to each area? Maybe think of color washing each area? Make your scan personal and positive for you. Check-in to your body without judgement and send gratefulness for the work your amazing body does.

Stand Big. Find a wall and place your backside onto it. Pretend there is a string at the crown of your head and imagine your head being pulled up towards the ceiling. Lift your chest as you are standing tall and use your slow, steady, deep breathing to create bigness and calmness. Relax your shoulders. Maybe place the back of your hands onto wall and feel the opening of your chest. Once you have practiced this posture, you can refer to this posture during your day. Stand big, breathe big, be big.

Intentionally SCHEDULE into your life what you love. Schedule time listening to your favorite music. Maybe take up playing an instrument? Practice singing in the shower or car. Set a timer and dance fervently. Create time to draw or paint or write. Make a recipe. Get frozen berries and make smoothies. Maybe add frozen spinach to your smoothie?

Pick up a book. Play a game, cards or even solitaire. Practice Sudoku. Take a bath or shower. Go for a long walk while keeping your distance from others. Find a workout you can do at home that makes you feel powerful. Whatever you love, turn it into a scheduled ritual. Make one small goal and work towards it. Focus on what we can do instead of what we cannot. Find some activity and fulfill a passion just for you. Make sleep a priority and know if you have a bad night, that the next night you will likely sleep better. Perhaps create a sleeping ritual? Call others and ask what they are doing for themselves? Remember to forgive yourself and to feel or express the feelings that are within you. We are all going through this together. Make you a priority and schedule yourself some HAPPY.

Lastly- try to limit the news, your phone and the frig. All of these can create negative feelings that do not fulfill us.

Breathe. Find love in positive activities. Be brave. Be grateful. Forgive.

We are all in this together.


Lauren Mansell DPT, CLT, PRPC is the author and instructor of the Trauma Awareness for the Pelvic Therapist course. She is also offering several courses via Zoom video conference during the Covid-19 pandemic, which can be found on our Remote Learning Opportunities page. Prior to becoming a physical therapist, Lauren counseled suicidal and homicidal SES at-risk youth who had survived sexual violence. Lauren was certified as a medical and legal advocate for sexual assault survivors in 1999 and has advocated for over 130 sexual assault survivors of all ages in the ED. Lauren's physical therapy specialty certifications include Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT), Pelvic Rehabilitation Professional Certificate (PRPC) and Certified Yoga Therapist (CYT). She is a board member of Chicagoland Pelvic Floor Research Consortium, American Physical Therapy Association Section of Women's Health and Section of Oncology.

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Trauma Informed Treatment Approach

I work at University of Chicago and we are in the throes of preparing for a (big T) Trauma Center. But I am physical therapist who works with (little t) traumatized patients- as I treat only pelvic or oncology patients (and usually both).

From the online dictionary: Trauma is 1. A deeply distressing or disturbing experience (little t trauma) or 2. Physical injury (injury, damage, wound) yes- big T Trauma. In my experience, the Trauma creates the trauma and the body responds in characteristically uncharacteristic ways (more on this later).

People in distress/trauma-affected do not respond rationally or characteristically, so I have learned to respond to distress/trauma in a rational, ethical, legal and caring manner. Always. Every time. To the best of my ability, and without shame or blame.

Let’s talk briefly about Trauma Informed Approach

This is a (person), program, institution or system that:

  1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery
  2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff and others affected
  3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures and practices
  4. Seeks to actively resist retraumatization

The Tenets of Trauma Informed Approach

  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness and transparency
  3. Peer support
  4. Collaboration and mutuality
  5. Empowerment, voice and choice
  6. Cultural, historical and gender issues

Trauma Specific Interventions

  • Survivors need to be respected, informed, supported, connected, and hopeful- in their recovery
  • Interrelation between trauma and symptoms of trauma such as substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, musculoskeletal presentation, and acute crisis- including suicidal/homicidal ideations (coordination with other service providers)
  • Work in a collaborative way with survivors, families and friends of survivor, and other service providers in a way that will empower survivors

Types of trauma are varied but I usually treat survivors of emotional, verbal, sexual and medical trauma. I have even treated patients who felt traumatized by other pelvic floor physical therapists (again, no judgement). Since most of my clinical experience include sexual and medical trauma survivorship, I try to reframe these experiences as potential Post Traumatic Growth, especially when working with my oncology patients. For my pelvic patients who divulge sexual trauma, I don’t dictate or name anything. I allow the survivor to make the rules and definitions. Survivors of sexual trauma need extra care when treating pelvic floor dysfunction.

First, when treating survivors of sexual trauma: expect ‘characteristically uncharacteristic’ events to occur. These include the psychological/somatic effects of passing out, flashbacks, seizures, tremors, dissociation and other mechanisms of coping with the trauma. Have a plan ready for these patients.

Triaging the survivor to assess their needs, when trauma has been verbalized/disclosed:

  • Are you safe right now?
  • Do you need medical treatment right now?
  • What do you need to feel in control of (PT session/immediately after disclosure of trauma)?
  • You have choices in your treatment and in your response to trauma.
  • I believe you.
  • Lastly, is this a situation for mandated reporting?

After assisting the survivor in their journey towards healing, it is imperative that you take care of yourself. Making healthy boundaries (with patients and others), taking time to decompress, creating healthy ritualistic behaviors, mindfulness/relaxation and somatic release (like yoga, massage or working out) is crucial to successfully treating patients who have experienced trauma and who have shared that trauma experience with you.

Because I use gentle yoga for both my trauma survivors’ treatment and for my own self-care, my new course implements evidenced based trauma sensitive yoga. Additionally, modifications for manual therapy are explored. The class is designed to be informative and experiential while integrating the Trauma Informed Approaches of Safety, Trustworthiness and transparency, Peer support, Collaboration and mutuality, Empowerment, voice and choice and Cultural, historical and gender issues.

Join me in Trauma Awareness for the Pelvic Therapist, next available this March in Albany, NY.

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Upcoming Continuing Education Courses

Pelvic Floor Level 2B - Satellite Lab Course

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021

Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist - Remote Course

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: Replacement Remote Course

Pelvic Floor Level 2B - Mequon, WI Satellite Course (SOLD OUT)

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: Health In Balance Physical Therapy

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Satellite Lab Course

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: Replacement Remote Course

Pelvic Floor Level 2B - Bozeman, MT Satellite Course (SOLD OUT)

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: Great Northern Physical Therapy

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Self-Hosted

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: Self-Hosted Course

Pelvic Floor Level 2B - Annapolis, MD Satellite Course (SOLD OUT)

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: Encompass PT

Pelvic Floor Level 2B - Marietta, GA Satellite Course (SOLD OUT)

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: Southern Pelvic Health

Pelvic Floor Level 2B - Torrance, CA Satellite Course

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: Women's Advantage Inc

Lumbar Nerve Manual Assessment and Treatment - Remote Course

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: Replacement Remote Course

Pelvic Floor Level 2B - Fort Smith, AR Satellite Course (SOLD OUT)

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: Arkansas Colleges of Heatlh Education

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Missoula, MT Satellite Location (SOLD OUT)

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: Florence therapy and wellness

Pelvic Floor Level 2B - Doylestown, PA Satellite Course (SOLD OUT)

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: Central Bucks Physical Therapy LLC

Pelvic Floor Level 2B - Ann Arbor, MI Satellite Course (SOLD OUT)

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: Probility Physical Therapy

Pelvic Floor Level 2B - New Orleans, LA Satellite Course (SOLD OUT)

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: Ochsner Therapy and Wellness/Ochsner Health System

Pelvic Floor Level 2B - Worcester, MA Satellite Course (SOLD OUT)

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: Central Mass PT & Wellness

Pelvic Floor Level 2B - Buffalo, NY Satellite Course

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: CorrEra Physical Therapy

Pelvic Floor Level 2B - Self-Hosted

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: Self-Hosted Course

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Greenville, SC Satellite Location (SOLD OUT)

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: His Therapy

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Fultondale, AL Satellite Location (SOLD OUT)

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: TherapySouth Fultondale

Osteoporosis Management - Remote Course

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: Replacement Remote Course

Pelvic Floor Level 1 - Derby, CT Satellite Location (SOLD OUT)

Apr 10, 2021 - Apr 11, 2021
Location: Griffin Hospital

Pediatric Incontinence and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction- Remote Course (SOLD OUT)

Apr 16, 2021 - Apr 18, 2021
Location: Replacement Remote Course

Pediatric Incontinence - Grand Rapids, MI (Rescheduled)

Apr 17, 2021 - Apr 18, 2021
Location: Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital

Pregnancy Rehabilitation - Remote Course

Apr 17, 2021 - Apr 18, 2021
Location: Replacement Remote Course

Manual Therapy for the Abdominal Wall - Remote Course

Apr 17, 2021
Location: Short Form Remote Course

Pudendal Neuralgia and Nerve Entrapment - Remote Course

Apr 17, 2021 - Apr 18, 2021
Location: Replacement Remote Course

From Challenged and Concerned to Centered and Empowered

Apr 18, 2021
Location: Short Form Remote Course

Pelvic Floor Level 2B - Houston, TX

Apr 24, 2021 - Apr 25, 2021
Location: Texas Children’s Hospital

Pelvic Floor Level 2B - Garden City, NY Satellite Course (SOLD OUT)

Apr 24, 2021 - Apr 25, 2021
Location: Metro Physical & Aquatic Therapy