"The value of college counselling cannot be overstated"Rosie Bradbury

Content note: This article contains detailed discussion of recovery from rape, depression, and anxiety. Resources for support and guidance can be found at the bottom of this article.

When I was raped during the second year of my A-Levels, it was as if my whole life stopped. Deadlines, exam pressure, my job as a waitress — they all kept rolling onwards, while I was left behind, frozen in place.

I do not know how I would have made it through those next few days, weeks, and months without the support of those closest to me. Thanks to them, I eventually found the courage to report what happened to me to the police. But that was when the trauma got even worse.

The ordeal of having to relive my experience in numerous interviews, conversations, and statements was horrific. I could barely admit to myself what had happened, let alone voice it out loud and in explicit detail to strangers. So when the police offered me a free, specialised counselling service for survivors of sexual assault and abuse, I was relieved. I was led to think that I would finally be receiving the support I so desperately needed.

But I could not have been more wrong. When I turned up to my first session, I was informed that I was not permitted to talk about being raped with the counsellor. I was speechless. In the very sessions that were supposed to help me deal with my trauma, I could not discuss the source of it, due to government advice regarding witness coaching. The counsellor coldly explained to me that defence solicitors could discredit me by arguing that counselling had distorted my memory and twisted my story. Shaken, I left, and never returned.

Trauma has a way of rearing its ugly head back into our lives, just when we begin to think that we have overcome it

This experience cemented my strategy of repressing any true acknowledgement of what had happened. Even now, writing this, I find myself deliberately avoiding the word “rape.” I told myself that I was fine, that I had moved on, that I could just push my experiences to the side and get on with my life. But trauma has a way of rearing its ugly head back into our lives, just when we begin to think that we have overcome it.  

When I left for university, I was determined to not let my experiences hinder me. But I soon realised it would not be that simple. Away from the familiar environment of my home and surrounded by people I did not know, I began to struggle more than ever. On nights out with my friends, I would find myself suddenly overcome with anxiety and leaving hours before everyone else. I would tell them I was tired and needed to get up early the next day, keeping the truth to myself because I did not want it to tarnish my new friendships. Most of them still do not know about this part of my life. 

As my anxiety worsened, I began to feel uncomfortable even talking about relationships, and found myself shutting down any opportunities to do so, whilst joking about how desperately single I was to deflect attention. Then, in my second year, the nightmares and flashbacks started. It was when I began to slip back into the grip of depression that I realised I needed help. 

I knew about the University Counselling Service but had heard that waiting times for it could be several weeks. And being at a college out of town, it was not exactly conveniently located for me. So I decided to get in touch with my college counsellor instead. I did not expect much to come out of it, and was surprised to hear back from her the following day with an offer for an appointment the next week. 

She simply gave me the space I needed, where I could finally admit to someone that I was not okay

The first thing I noticed when I entered her room was the atmosphere. There was a feeling of quiet and relaxation, with soft lighting, plants, and a comfy armchair for me to sit in; unlike the large, cold room I had experienced with my previous counselling attempt, nearly two years before. I sat down, and we talked: about what was on my mind that day, how I was feeling, and how my term was going. 

I could tell that she knew there was something bigger going on inside my head, but she never pushed me. She let me steer the conversation, allowing me to share as much and as little as I wanted to. I left feeling lighter, safer, even though we had not even begun to address the reason I was there. She simply gave me the space I needed, where I could finally admit to someone that I was not okay. 

In subsequent sessions over the next few weeks, I opened up to her about my life: my previous struggles with mental health, my parents’ divorce, and the trauma that had been hiding in the darkest recesses of my mind for the past couple of years. 

I cried a lot in that room. Growing up, I was teased for always crying at sad movies and songs. That stopped after I was raped — it was as if all my negative emotions were locked up somewhere, to stop anyone from getting too close to me and seeing my vulnerability. But in the counsellor’s room, I could somehow access and release some of them.


Mountain View

What’s therapy like?

I am still healing. There are days where I think I will never be able to get over what happened to me or talk about it openly. But counselling has opened up doors within myself. It has helped me realise how much further I still have to go. I am now beginning to accept my trauma and acknowledge my feelings, rather than hide from them.

The value of college counselling cannot be overstated. A two-minute walk from my room, I had no excuse not to see her, even on the days when I wanted to hide from the world. My counsellor has been a lifeline this year, when I had no one else to turn to. Thanks to her support, kindness, and honesty, I now feel as though I am living with my trauma, rather than in spite of it. 

  • If you have been affected by any of the content of this article, the following provides support and resources: Samaritans – call 116 123 (open 24 hours); Mind – call 0300 123 3393 or text 86463 (9am to 6pm weekdays).

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, the following organisations provide support and resources:

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