As a group therapist who has led many groups including a group for women with histories of childhood sexual traumas since 1990, I am pleased with the ingenuity of the Horace Mann alumni who have formed a group from which they can discuss the accounts and aftermath of the betrayal of sexual abuse at their school. Judith Herman, a renowned pioneer in the field of sexual and domestic abuse who has authored many books including “Father-Daughter Incest” and “Trauma and Recovery,” underscores the group’s value in providing an abuse survivor opportunities to connect with others and lessen isolation often due to secrecy, shame, and fear. Groups offer a forum for people to feel less alone or stigmatized, exchange information and coping strategies, and restore a sense of hope. A group can also remind its members of the universal nature of things. For example, bad things happen to good people. Some of the participants of the Horace Mann alumni group have apparently reported “cathartic” relief as they share their stories and are helped to piece together parts of what happened. Aided by the Internet, this group is offering “collective therapy.” However, further in-person therapy is often indicated if a person’s own traumas are uncovered or stirred up by listening to others discuss their own traumatic experiences. Secondary traumatization may also occur in the process. Signs that the person may be having a traumatic reaction include that he or she starts to feel more anxious, depressed, withdrawn or “out-of-it,” or have flashbacks of something upsetting or preoccupying. Further, there may be an increase in substance abuse (alcohol, food, drugs) or compulsive sexual behavior, shopping, or skin-picking. Under these circumstances, it is recommended that symptoms be taken seriously and that in-depth individual therapy be sought.
Gwenn A. Nusbaum, LCSW, BCD, CGP
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