Guest Blogger: Anne Miller-Uueda, LCSW
The aftermath of trauma is often isolating. There may be emotional, cognitive, physical, and behavioral changes that seem confusing. For folks who experienced trauma as a young child, these impacts are at times a part of life as far back as they can remember. Sometimes it can be hard to believe that others who have not experienced these effects can truly understand what you are experiencing as a survivor. Individual therapy is hugely impactful, if not vital, to help heal from trauma. However, having an individual therapist tell you that what you are experiencing is a normal reaction to trauma feels different than hearing another person describe an experience you recognize. This is one of the reasons that group therapy can be so impactful for survivors.
One of the best-known writers on group therapy is Irvin Yalom. He identified 11 curative factors in group therapy. All of these factors have a deep, resounding impact on trauma healing in the group setting. However, I want to focus on just 2 in this post: instillation of hope and universality.
What is instillation of hope? It is the process of increasing belief that life can be better, or even good. This process is driven by watching the successes of other group members and having one’s own accomplishments recognized by the group. When you bear witness to the healing of others it can help you truly know that healing is possible.
Universality is the concept that you are not alone in your suffering. Being in a group with other survivors normalizes your experiences and helps people to feel less alone. When isolation is a part of your daily existence, it can be monumental to be truly seen and heard by another person with a similar experience of walking through the world.
So, at what point in the healing journey does it make sense to participate in group therapy? Groups can play a role at all points in the healing journey, but different types of groups work better at different stages of healing. Acute debriefing groups give opportunities to share experiences of trauma directly after the fact and are most often offered when a community has experienced some type of disaster that impacts many of its members. Support groups are generally time-limited, help survivors cope with the impacts of trauma, and begin to establish safety. Support groups can be found at many agencies in Philadelphia, such as WOAR Philadelphia’s Center Against Sexual Violence. There are also longer-term processing groups. These groups are most helpful later in the trauma healing journey when some baseline ability to handle anxiety and stress has been established. They can provide a space for members to reconnect to the here and now, reconnect to community, further understand and change the way trauma is carried within the self, and make meaning of the traumatic experiences.