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Groups at the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre

Group of stuffed animals sitting in a circle

Hi folks!  My name is Nadia and I am a counsellor here at the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre.  I decided to write a post about groups after a conversation with Lindsay, our Resource Development Manager.  It went something like this:

Lindsay: <seeing me erasing the white board in the large group room> “Oh hey!  Are you just finishing up a group?”

Me:  “Yeah – it’s the third session of Skills for Healing  [our first foundational group].”

Lindsay: “How’d it go?”

Me:  “It was awesome!  I’ve got a great bunch of participants, and I love running groups in general.”

Lindsay:  “I noticed that you seemed to really enjoy it – what do you like most?”

Me:  “I love to see the transformation of people, even after just a few weeks.  Often they come in really scared, because they don’t know what to expect, but for a lot of them that turns into looking forward to coming to group every week.  I wish there was a way to describe to folks what groups here at VSAC are like, so they can feel safer and maybe be more willing to give the group format a try!”

Lindsay: “You should write a blog about it!”

I thought that was a great idea, so here’s everything you wanted to know about groups at VSAC but were afraid to ask:

What’s the group format? What do we cover?

Our first two foundational groups, Skills for Healing and Building Strengths, are structured, educational groups.  We focus on skills and information to help you manage your troubling thoughts, feelings, and body responses to trauma.  Some of the skills we cover in Skills for Healing include Grounding, Containment, Distancing, Developing Resources and Supports, and Self-Care.

There is also psycho-education about how our brain, nervous system, and body respond to trauma.  A lot of survivors appreciate this information because it can help them better understand some of their triggers, why there are gaps in their memory, or why they may feel exhausted all the time (among other things).

Both Skills for Healing and Building Strengths are five weeks long, and we vary the time and day they are offered so that we can accommodate participants’ schedules.

Will I have to share my story with strangers?  I’m nervous about that!

If you’re nervous about sharing details of your trauma, that’s understandable  –  it turns out your instincts match the trauma research.   Opening up about trauma before we’re ready can be unsafe for ourselves and others.  That’s why our first two groups at VSAC are structured and educational.

We don’t share our trauma stories in those groups  – that’s for later on down the road.  What we are doing in group is getting you prepared so you feel safe to talk about your trauma when the time is right (often in individual counselling).  Your facilitator is committed to maintaining safety within the group and making sure folks don’t share too much.

What’s the deal with groups?  Why do we have to do them?

Well, you don’t have to – all services at VSAC are by your choice.  We do ask clients to learn (either in a group format or individually) the skills and information in our first two foundational groups, Skills for Healing and Building Strengths, before moving on to longer-term individual counselling, or other groups.

This is because it’s important for you to have the skills and tools to manage the thoughts, feelings and body responses that might come up as you’re taking a closer look at your trauma.  Attending groups also helps you maintain a connection with VSAC and develop your resources while you’re waiting for longer-term counselling.

That being said, there are lots of benefits to attending groups for their own sake.  We have many clients who really enjoy the group format – and in fact may prefer it – for some of the reasons below:

So, what are the benefits of groups?

There are a few reasons that groups can be beneficial – the biggest ones have to do with the benefits of group process.  We do follow-up phone  interviews after every group, and time and time again, I’ve heard clients say that just being in the presence of other survivors (even if you don’t know a thing about what happened to them!) helps them to feel less isolated.  When we ask, “What did you learn from the group?”, one of  the most common answers is, “That I am not alone.”

Another really neat thing that happens in groups is that members already come in with a lot of great skills, tools, and strategies that work for them.  It can be a good opportunity to share resources and support, and it can shine a light on how far survivors have come even before they’ve begun the part of their healing journey that involves VSAC.  Survivors are often surprised by how resourced they are, and they find it reassuring that other folks who have also experienced sexualized violence are moving forward in their healing as well.

Some participants get so much out of groups that they opt to do them exclusively.  Groups are just as valid a pathway as individual counselling (or anything else you find helpful) on your healing journey.

And from an agency standpoint, we get the opportunity to serve more people at the same time, keeping our wait lists down and increasing access to our services.  We’re all about access!

I understand the benefits of groups for others, but I still don’t think they’re a good fit for me.  Does this mean I won’t be eligible for individual counselling?

We really encourage folks to learn Skills for Healing and Building Strengths information in the group format, but if there’s a reason that you simply can’t do it in a group (e.g. unpredictable schedule, extremely high anxiety, you’re in a helping profession and may run into clients of your own, learning challenges…), we can offer this information in a one-on-one format.

Wow!  Groups sound much cooler than I thought!  How do I get into one?

Great question!  Our groups are open to women and Trans survivors of sexualized violence.  The first step toward accessing groups is to attend one of our Centre Information Meetings.  You can sign up for one by calling our Crisis and Information Line at 250-383-3232.

Once you’ve attended an information meeting, if you like what you hear, you’ll fill out a Request for Service and get referred into your first Intake.  At the end of the Intake, you’ll get to discuss with the intake counsellor if groups are right for you.  If you and the counsellor agree it’s a good fit, you’ll be placed on the Skills for Healing waitlist.  That’s all there is to it!

I hope this introduction to groups at VSAC has been helpful.  If you’ve got any questions, please give our Crisis and Information Line a call.