A dozen times each year, the JCARES Professional Training Institute offers educational sessions to help professionals across disciplines become more effective and sensitive responders to—and advocates for—abuse and sexual assault victims and their families.
Molly Boeder Harris, founder of Portland’s Breathe Network , was the keynote speaker at a recent training focused on a variety of healing techniques , including yoga, art therapy, acupuncture, and massage, that can be used to help abuse and rape victims. The training promised to be an informative opportunity for Harris “to demystify the healing arts,” as she put it.
But something much more powerful took place when Harris stood in front of the JCARES session. Because for the first time in her life she publicly shared a detailed description of how she had been raped 12 years ago while living abroad.
”The people in the room were profoundly impacted; it was dead silent as she spoke,” said Amy Rubin, JCFS Chicago’s Senior Director of Community Services and a longtime anti-violence advocate. “Molly’s descriptions about her attack were so realistic that I literally felt as if I was lying on the ground with twigs poking in my back and the weight of a large man holding me down. Molly’s story was wrenching even to seasoned professionals. We were very privileged and honored to be her audience,” said Rubin.
Power of the healing arts
After she had shared her own story, Harris began to explain how powerful healing arts can be in the aftermath of abuse and assault.
“Many people think of these healing arts as secondary to advocacy,” said Harris after the JCARES session in a phone interview. “Crisis intervention, medical resources and all that are necessary, but the healing arts can be the most significant element of recovery. The trauma from rape ebbs and flows through the rest of our lives. With self-care and self-compassion after we move through the medical and criminal justice systems, there are tools to take us through the rest of our lives.”
Harris believes that people are inherently resilient—that our bodies are designed to transform and transcend trauma.
“Up until now, talk-based therapy for trauma or the criminal justice system didn’t attend to the deeply personal element of how a person’s body stores trauma,” said Harris. “Symptoms don’t mean anything is wrong with us; they are messages from our bodies. If we understand the messages, we can heal. A good portion of my JCARES talk was about reframing the body, and I felt the group got that.”
Rubin said that Harris’s message reminded her of how important it is to look at all the different ways of supporting individuals, families and the community.
“Sometimes we get a bit stuck and say ‘here is what my agency can offer you,’” Rubin said, “but there is so much more that is possible - there are alternatives. Molly reminded us to think expansively and consider all the options that could help the person in front of us.
Harris said that advocates and healing practitioners are “on the same page, so we need to create a shared language. That’s the next frontier—intentional collaborations with the advocacy community. So a rape crisis center in Chicago can find a healer to bring in for the clients, volunteers and staff (the wellness of staff will directly impact the wellness of clients). Healers need to get out of our practices and get into advocacy in a more practical way—into the service agency, into the court system. We need to make the healing arts more accessible.”
The Harris training is just one example of the high-quality sessions presented by the JCARES Professional Training Institute. Trainings are offered throughout the year at different locations and are designed to provide those who work in domestic violence and sexual assault, mental health and social services; health care; law enforcement and courts; government and municipalities with knowledge, tools, and strategies. Upcoming sessions include: “Understanding Protective Orders in Illinois”, “There is Always Something New in Adult Protective Services”, and “How Did We Get Here? Harm Reduction: An Evolution in Treatment Practice.” If you would like to be added to the training email list and receive announcements of upcoming sessions, contact Betsy Lazerow, JCARES Coordinator. For more information on JCARES, visit jcfs.org.
For more information visit The Breathe Network.