A war half a world away is being fought in group counseling and Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) sessions in the U.S. Some clients and worker groups feel higher levels of stress and anxiety.
In CISM groups, some workers discuss feeling guilty because their counterparts in Ukraine have lost their homes, their community, and their sense of safety. Some, who have fled Ukraine, now work out of temporary homes in Poland. They talk about auditory hallucinations, such as hearing an air raid siren that isn’t there, sleep and appetite disruptions, a sense of betrayal (some of their Russian family members have cut off communication), and a loss of identity as they live in another country that has a different culture and language and transition into their new role as a refugee.
CISM group, which is not considered counseling, provides workers with psychological safety in a world that may not offer physical safety. Also, a person can reveal first time reactions to their first experience with war. One group member described it well when he explained that he was surprised when he saw his first dead Russian soldier. Instead of seeing it as tragic and feeling sadness, he felt anger and described a sense of vengeance when he saw the corpse. “Is that cruel?” he asked the group. Group can help get perspective on emotions and discover that you are not alone.
Some therapists who run group for children and adolescents are fielding some difficult questions. “I have noticed that my teen clients have mostly settled into this new normal and are feeling less anxiety around Covid as a whole,” says Kristina Tutt (pictured left), Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and group psychotherapist. “However, kids who are prone to depression and anxiety (or whose parents are) may still be on edge about exposure.” Add war to this ongoing uncertainty, and Tutt says some teens may feel helpless because they think they have no control over their lives.
What about teens in the group environment? Tutt recommends that clinicians “focus on educating with facts and validating their concerns. In my work with teens, I have found that most just want to be heard and not dismissed as children with irrelevant thoughts and feelings. Anxiety often stems from the unknown or from misleading rumors; clearing those up first can go a long way toward advancing conversations and soothing your child or adolescent.”
Parents are also wrestling with reactions and questions from their kids. Tutt suggests asking your child about their worries and listening without judging or minimizing their feelings. “Be honest about the war and how it might influence their life. For example, a young person who lives in a community with a higher rate of violence may have very different fears compared to a child who has experienced poverty. Both can be different from a teen who struggles with persistent anxiety.”
Whether it is CISM group or group counseling, it can provide emotional shelter for people who have been exposed to the horrors of war.