Diverse young teenage people receiving support during a therapy session

Military Sexual Trauma

Military veterans may face a variety of struggles during and after their military service. Various traumatic experiences during military service can lead to larger issues if left untreated. Sexual violence or assault is relatively common for service members while they are away.

Military sexual trauma (MST) refers to sexual assault or sexual harassment a person experiences during military service. Military sexual trauma affects veterans of all genders and from all types of backgrounds.

Military sexual trauma is a significant problem in the armed forces that affects thousands of service members each year. MST can have a devastating impact on survivors, causing a range of physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms that can last for years after the trauma occurs.

To support survivors of MST, many military organizations have established MST support groups, which provide a safe and confidential environment for survivors to share their experiences, receive emotional support, and learn coping skills.

These groups can be a crucial resource for survivors, helping them to feel less isolated and more empowered as they work towards healing and recovery. By acknowledging the seriousness of MST and providing survivors with the resources they need to heal, the military can help to reduce the incidence of this harmful and traumatic experience.

Breaking the shame or stigma of getting support to work through MST is essential for recovery and health care. We understand that seeking help for military sexual trauma can be challenging and that MST survivors may be carrying some sexual trauma. At Solara Mental Health we support veterans and provide a safe space for those who have experienced MST.

What is Military Sexual Trauma?

Military sexual trauma is a term that refers to sexual assault or sexual harassment a person experiences while serving in the military. Military sexual trauma consists of any sexual activity during military service that occurs against a person’s will or when they are unable to say no.

There are many forms of military sexual trauma, including:

What Are the Symptoms of Military Sexual Trauma?

It is estimated that as many as one out of three female veterans and one out of 100 male veterans report having experienced MST. However, while female service members are at greater risk, nearly 40 percent of all veterans who reveal they have experienced military sexual trauma are men.

Military sexual trauma can produce several symptoms, including:

Post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological health issues

Sexual assault survivors have a higher rate of PTSD. Statistics show that in addition to PTSD, survivors of military sexual trauma are frequently diagnosed with depression, mood disorders, and substance use disorders.

Difficulty with relationships and social functioning

Veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma often report issues with personal relationships. The trauma they have experienced may trigger trust issues, sexual dysfunction, and difficulty engaging in social activities. Survivors also commonly experience emotional challenges such as guilt, shame, and anger over the trauma, which may interfere with their ability to find or maintain work in their civilian life.

Physical health problems

Military sexual trauma survivors may experience sexual difficulties, chronic pain, stomach problems, or weight and eating issues. In addition, they may also experience difficulty with attention, concentration, memory, and focus.

Substance abuse

Survivors of military sexual trauma have a rate of substance abuse up to ten times greater than non-victims.

Additional medical and mental health conditions

Data shows that military sexual trauma survivors develop certain medical conditions and mental health conditions at a higher rate than non-victims.

What is a Military Sexual Trauma Group?

Group therapy is a form of therapy where several people attend the same session. For example, a military sexual trauma group involves a group of people who are all survivors of MST. These groups are led by one or more licensed therapists specializing in military sexual trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or both. The groups are entirely confidential, with information concerning participants only shared with external parties with the participant’s written consent.

For many survivors of military sexual trauma, group therapy is a powerful tool that can be more beneficial than individual therapy. The safe and confidential setting enables participants to share and communicate with each other openly. At the same time, a team of experts guides the discussion and provides proven strategies for managing specific issues.

Treatments for Military Sexual Trauma

It’s important to realize that military sexual trauma is an experience and not a diagnosis of a mental health condition.

Like other forms of trauma, MST impacts a person in different ways. However, no matter what your symptoms are, treatments and resources are available that can help a person heal from the impact of military sexual trauma.

For survivors of military sexual trauma with mental health diagnoses related to their experiences, such as PTSD or depression, evidence-based therapies are among the most effective treatments.

Evidence-based therapies that are effective for treating MST and related conditions include:

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

can help individuals diagnosed with PTSD to gradually approach and address their traumatic memories, feelings, and situations. Many clients find that their PTSD symptoms begin to decrease when they directly confront these challenges.

Cognitive Processing Therapy

helps survivors diagnosed with PTSD to determine how their traumatic experiences have affected their thinking, and evaluate their thoughts, to change them. Cognitive Processing Therapy helps survivors develop healthy and balanced beliefs about themselves, others, and their world.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

is a structured therapy that helps survivors who experience mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse disorders, or other mental health issues. This treatment can help people develop balanced and helpful thoughts about themselves, others, and the future by helping to modify thought patterns and change negative moods or behaviors.

Interpersonal Therapy

helps survivors experiencing depression to identify and evaluate relationship issues that may contribute to their depression. Interpersonal therapy can help people develop social skills to cope with relationship problems and improve their overall quality of life.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

can help people overcome their emotional pain by encouraging positive actions and choices that align with their values. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can improve a person's ability to recognize and achieve what truly matters most in their life.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy

helps people with substance use disorders to concentrate on personal motivations for change. Participants in this therapy explore the reasons behind their desire to change and the potential benefits that change will offer.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

helps individuals manage stress and strong emotions, learn mindfulness and distress tolerance, and develop and practice new relationship skills.

Learn More About Solara's Military Sexual Trauma Group

Dealing with difficulties related to military sexual trauma can be challenging, and the team of professionals at Solara can help. We are experts at treating MST and related issues. We can help veterans learn more about how military sexual trauma affects people and can provide treatment that enables them to cope with how the experience impacts their life.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma and are struggling with mental health disorders.