From Yoga to Advocacy, MSU Offers Comprehensive Support for Survivors

Look around the room: Name five things that you can see. Name four that you can touch. Name three that you can hear. Two that you can smell. And one that you can taste.

This simple “grounding” technique—helpful in easing anxiety, staving off a panic attack or weathering a flashback—is among the coping skills that students can learn this fall through MSU’s wide array of individual and group therapy services for survivors of sexual assault.

The programs are offered by MSU’s Sexual Assault Program, whose 11-person staff and 100 volunteers also operate a 24-hour crisis hotline that serves the campus and greater community. All of the services are confidential.

Program staff include six therapists who provide individual and group therapy, and an advocate who can support students at the hospital, during a police department interview, or through court proceedings. The advocate can help in myriad other ways, too, from arranging with a professor for a student to miss class for a legal hearing to negotiating with a landlord to break a lease when a perpetrator is living in the same building.

All of the services are based on campus—a fact that Tana Fedewa, program coordinator, believes helps survivors stay in school.

“There can be a sense of institutional betrayal when a sexual assault occurs on campus or where the perpetrator has a connection to the campus,” Fedewa said. “There is often a mourning of the loss of what a student thought college would be like.”

Many come close to dropping out.

“They regularly tell us things like, ‘I wouldn’t have stayed at MSU if it hadn’t been for this program,’ or ‘I was going to leave but because I felt so connected and safe, I stayed,’” Fedewa said.

Last year alone, the Sexual Assault Program served 486 clients, including 233 students who received individual and group therapy, 138 advocacy clients, 109 hotline callers, and 99 who received medical advocacy support.

This fall, the program is offering six group therapy programs, all of them free.

One focuses on healing through movement. Another uses acupuncture to relieve stress. New this year are groups for women of color and for LGBT survivors. Participants share their stories in some of the groups. In others, there is no talking.

Groups are open to survivors of sexual assault or unwanted sexual advances, survivors of childhood sexual trauma, and “co-survivors” including roommates and friends.

Caroline Nelsen, a sexual assault therapist, is teaching the yoga portion of the “Healing through Movement” group and co-leading the “Seeking Safety” group, which teaches concrete coping skills. Nelsen has also facilitated the “Forward Together” group, a more traditional group therapy program in which participants share and process their experiences and struggles with one another.

Nelsen said the array of offerings will continue to evolve, as it has throughout the 10 years that MSU has provided group therapy for sexual assault survivors.

“Our role as staff and faculty at MSU is to provide an environment where students can learn and succeed,” Nelsen said. “We are always trying to better meet needs of survivors, to be more holistic and to reach a more diverse population. We’re also following the research, and incorporating what’s most up-to-date in terms of trauma treatment.”

It’s rewarding work, Nelsen said.

“Seeing people healing from their trauma, finding their voice, feeling supported and heard—reconnecting with their lives—I love doing this work,” Nelsen said. “There is real value in knowing you’re not the only one going through something like this, and connecting with other survivors.”

For more information about fall therapy groups, visit: https://endrape.msu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Groups-List.png

For more information about the Sexual Assault Program, visit: https://endrape.msu.edu/