Men traumatized by the sexual abuse they suffered as boys come together to support each other after the launch of a new group – the first of its kind in Lanarkshire.
Charity Talk Now has recruited a new, highly experienced counselor to facilitate the men’s service following an increase in demand for support from survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Founder Pat Mair, who formed the association in 2012 out of her own experience with childhood trauma, hired Graeme Lynch, who has extensive experience providing trauma services.
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Up to 10 men meet virtually every fortnight in a peer-led therapeutic session that allows them to share their past experiences and their impact in the present.
One of the group’s goals is to break down the sense of isolation that men feel when they carry the burden of childhood sexual abuse with them.
“Especially for men it can be very difficult to talk about this,” Graeme told Lanarkshire Live.
An integrating advisor who takes a humanist approach, added: “It is about giving them this shared space where everyone knows they have experienced the same kind of thing and that they have nothing to be ashamed of.
“It allows them to explore and discuss what they’ve been through. “
With participants between the ages of 18 and 50, Graeme says age is not a defining characteristic of the group, giving men the opportunity to share what he describes as “a universal experience.”
“It’s good to hear young people share their experience and to see older people take something from it,” he said.
“Plus, with age comes wisdom. They all receive support, regardless of the age range of the members. “
Unlike other psycho-educational services, the pioneering Talk Now group approach allows for greater interaction, during which men can open up about their experiences and the emotional scars inflicted on their lives.
“Due to the very nature of childhood sexual abuse, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding it,” continued Graeme, who, in addition to specializing in sexual trauma, supports those in mourning and the loss of life. loss.
“It happens mainly in people’s homes, within families. In the West of Scotland and across Scotland there has been a tendency to sweep things under the rug and not talk about it.
“Over time, this perception and this state of mind gradually crumbles. But because it happens so close to home, there is often still a silence. “
The associated stigma, says Graeme, extends beyond the individual who experiences the abuse, impacting family members and the community at large.
A common theme among male survivors of childhood sexual abuse, he says, is difficulty forming and maintaining meaningful relationships, and a need to learn.
how to have healthy attachments to others.
“There are people who have difficulty with men in particular,” said Graeme.
“Here they have the space to unlearn some of the things they have learned in their lifetime and learn that not all men are awful and terrible.
“It gives them a space to recognize it.
“It’s about letting go of any blame or guilt that might be around them – of not holding onto that shame anymore. Being able to share this in a group meeting is really beneficial.
“It’s not just for me to listen. It’s also about listening to others and appreciating what it is.
With the group still in its infancy, Graeme and Talk Now founder Pat hope to further break down barriers, while increasing the knowledge and understanding of student counselors and male volunteers by involving them in future sessions.
The couple are also keen to reach out to other male survivors of childhood sexual abuse who until now did not have a forum for them to open up.
“The group is very open and welcoming to anyone who thinks they would benefit from joining us,” Graeme said.
“It’s a space that welcomes them, that understands and appreciates the difficulties they are going through. It’s a safe space for them to come and participate if they want, or just listen, because we’re also talking about how to cope. “
And he added: “I think the service provided by Talk Now is really needed because primary mental health services do not deal with this type of case and leave it to voluntary or private organizations to take care of this. job.”
The formation of the men’s only group comes as East Kilbride-based Talk Now experiences greater demand than ever for its services.
Pat, who suffered a trauma from the age of 11, began exploring ways to address the lack of support for people like her in 2010.
After two years of researching and meeting with social workers, mental health teams and other agencies who come in contact with survivors of childhood sexual abuse, including Rape Crisis, Pat opened the doors to Talk Now.
It was 2012 – just as, nearly a year after his death, reports surfaced that broadcaster Jimmy Savile had sexually assaulted hundreds of male and female victims throughout his life, ranging from prepubescent to adults. , having come into contact with them through his creativity. projects for the BBC and its charitable work for the NHS.
As the scandal emerged, the need for a support service for abuse survivors could not have been more pressing.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapist Pat led the organization on his own for six months before reaching out to the voluntary sector for help with administration, answering calls and welcoming clients.
Interns from the Center of Therapy in Glasgow have also joined the Talk Now team to gain experience and develop their skills.
“When I first opened my doors, I had worked as a therapist for seven years,” said Pat, who is now a grandmother of two.
“I thought I was well equipped. I thought I had all the knowledge and skills associated with my own trauma experience. But it didn’t seem to gel like I would have liked.
Anxious to understand why some clients did not show up for appointments and others were inconstant in their presence, Pat made it a point to meet some of them for a chat over coffee. They told her that in order for them to feel safe and comfortable enough to ask for help, they wanted less clinical and more relaxed service – so Pat set out to achieve that.
Government and Big Lottery funding gave the organization new impetus in 2015, allowing it to recruit six advisers.
Realizing that working with the cognitive-behavioral model alone was not enough, Pat and his team began to take on more trauma cases and provide person-centered help.
“It has helped tremendously,” she said. “I have seen people start to change and take charge of their lives.” Shortly before the pandemic, Talk Now was becoming increasingly busy and Pat heard the views of GPs, hospital consultants, Dr Lisa Cameron MP, Police Scotland and other partner agencies on the best way to support and manage the growth of the organization.
With the influx of referrals, she recruited more counselors and now has a staff of 15, all of whom are skilled in complex trauma.
Seeing that people presented with complex issues that meant they weren’t ready for counseling, she created the position of Life Link Worker – someone who provides support when a person needs to attend counseling. social work meetings or appointments with addiction or mental health services to prepare them for counseling sessions.
Along with the lockdown, emergency funding enabled Talk Now to provide support to people experiencing domestic violence trauma.
Having completed five assessments per week previously, since the COVID outbreak, the team is undertaking 10 assessments per day, and there is now a three-month waiting list for counseling.
In response to the pressures the pandemic has placed on people’s mental health, Talk Now has also introduced outdoor outdoor counseling and workshops teaching mindfulness and meditation, yoga, how to overcome low self-esteem. , anger management and helpful thinking.
“I never could have dreamed that Talk Now would have seen such growth and be as successful as it is today,” said Pat.
“Our strategy is to maintain this model of growth and to continue to provide a safe and confidential service to those who suffered trauma in their childhood.”
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