How Can Group Counseling Help a DV Survivor?
We don’t often hear about group counseling. I am currently going to my local seminary to get a degree in counseling. Since studying group counseling this semester I have learned a few things I didn’t know:
Group counseling can be just as effective and sometimes even more effective than individual counseling.
- Participants often learn more from other group members than they do from the therapist leading the group.
- Group counseling costs about a third of the cost of individual counseling.
- Many DV crisis centers offer groups for DV survivors for free or at a very low-cost.
If you have experienced abuse and would like to do some counseling (which I highly recommend), you might consider finding a specialized group for DV survivors.
I remember doing a few group counseling sessions at my local women’s crisis center. I don’t remember a thing the leader said (this was many years ago). But I clearly remember a woman I’ll call Jean. She was describing a situation where her abuser had been away for several weeks on a business trip. He didn’t tell her he was leaving, and didn’t tell her when he was coming back. While he was gone, she said she was able to “breathe.” I remember that feeling of being at peace when my ex was gone. Lovely.
One evening when she was taking a long, peaceful bubble bath, he slammed into their house unannounced. He started raging at her right away because she wasn’t “there to greet him.” Good grief! She had no idea when he was going to return, or even if he would return! I suppose he expected her to be waiting by the door the entire time he was gone?!?
What interested me about that story was how similar it was to some experiences I had with my abuser. He also would come up to me after not speaking to me for weeks and begin raging – frightening me to no end. Even to this day, over a decade after my divorce, I still jump when someone comes into a room quietly. I get so startled! I know there is no one wanting to hurt me or scare me in my house now, but that startle reflex is still there.
The main thing I remember about my group counseling sessions (besides this story from Jean) was a realization that abusers all use the same tricks to keep power and control over their partners. I was surprised how many stories I heard about abusers using the silent treatment, coming into a room raging, a having a great sense of entitlement, (you owe me your time, attention and care, and I owe you nothing) – experiences very similar to mine.
In group counseling terms, this feeling that we were all in the same boat together is called universality. Universality means that we all experience similar circumstances. This feeling helps us not to feel so alone in our pain. I was comforted to hear these stories from the other members of the group. I wasn’t going crazy after all! I had not imagined the things my abuser tried to tell me had never happened! I wasn’t a terrible wife and mother! No, the problem wasn’t me, it was HIM.
There are many other “therapeutic factors” (things that help us) to be found in group counseling. Here are a few:
- Catharsis – being able to express our feelings and concerns to others who understand and empathize
- Insight – getting a better understanding of ourselves, and what we’ve experienced
- Interpersonal learning – receiving feedback from others, and learning new relational skills (like assertiveness, boundaries, etc.)
- Family reenactment – the group becomes like a family, and wounds from our families of origin can be mended
- Altruism – the great feeling you get when you are able to help another sufferer
- Instillation of hope – being encouraged when we see how others are solving their problems.
I know many abuse survivors join DV survivor Facebook pages. These can give you many of the same benefits as group counseling such as catharsis, insight, altruism, instillation of hope. But, while I love the DV pages I am a part of,
I believe being in a group with other survivors you can see and touch will be even more helpful.
I just did a search for domestic violence survivor counseling groups in my area, and sadly, nothing came up. I know that our local DV crisis center offers them, because I was a part of that one. If you are looking for a group, you might call your local DV center. If you don’t know where one is, check out my Get Help page. The first thing you will see at the top is a place to enter your city/state or zip code. When you hit enter, it will search DomesticShelters.org’s database of DV agencies.
I am saddened that there are no DV survivor groups listed in my area. However, after I graduate, I dream of running domestic violence survivor groups, possibly in our church at a sliding-scale fee with my counselor second-husband as my co-leader. That would make all my hours going to class, reading text books and writing papers worthwhile.
Proverbs 27:9 says:
Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart,
and the pleasantness of a friend
springs from their heartfelt advice.
And verse 17 says:
As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.
Question: Have you ever experienced group counseling? If so, could you please share your experience?
I pray you will find a group that will help move you forward in your healing.