Please note: this project was an initiative by Xiaojie and Megan as individuals, and was not a service provided by CandleX.
In Beijing, there has always been an unmet need to support women in the international community who were in abusive relationships. Survivors are usually invisible due to the shame, and affordable professional support almost does not exist due to the scarce resources and high costs. Abusive relationships can exist in the form of domestic violence, intimate partner abuse, or even toxic friendships. Many people who are in abusive relationships may not even realize they are in that situation. But for those who do and manage to get out, there is still a long road of healing ahead which may require work with a therapist. Being aware of that and with the goal to kick start the support on this topic, Xiaojie and Megan provided the much-needed support for women who were in abusive relationships to heal in Oct 2021.
Title: Xiaojie is a certified psychotherapist and director at CandleX, who provided the therapy sessions.
For this project, Xiaojie provided 4 sessions of group therapy and 4 individual sessions for each participant.
Megan is an activist for women and is passionate about supporting victims of intimate partner abuse and domestic violence. She volunteers with Female Health Empowerment Network to help women gain access to healthcare resources in China. For this project, Megan co-organized the sessions and was present to support the therapy sessions when needed.
Duration: September 25 - October 24, 2021
Number of participants: 4, from 3 different countries
Group Sessions: Once per week for 4 weeks, 2 hours each week
Individual Sessions: 4 per participant
Total therapy hours offered: 24 hours
Fee: 100rmb for each session, both for group therapy and individual therapy
How does the Group Therapy Session Work?
We had a screening phase to ensure the eligibility of the participants, as well as ensuring the maximum possible outcome of the project. The purpose of the group therapy was to give women the space and tools necessary to begin or continue healing from their past abusive relationships. Survivors often feel alone in their experiences, and group therapy can provide a space for them to connect with each other.
Over the course of 4 weeks (2 hours per weekly session), participants shared and reflected on their stories. Based on their individual experiences and their own needs, group goals were established, and Xiaojie provided everyone with guidance and tools to help them adapt their mindsets and behavior. Each group therapy will vary based on the participants’ experiences, preferences, and established goals as a group. The following structure and content were unique to this group and should only be seen as a reference.
Week 1: Unpacking the Past
To discover where the dislocation is in your bones, a physician may need to press on the point that causes pain. It’s the same for psychotherapy, and participants felt heavy and overwhelmed after the first session. In our first session, group members shared their past experiences with abuse, which is not easy to express. It did allow the therapist to see the roots of some issues they experience now. After this session, participants were reminded that it is important to schedule something fun and/or relaxing afterwards to recover from intense emotions brought up during the first session.
Week 2: Group Goals, Defining Abuse, and How Past Abuse Impacts Us Now
Many survivors of abuse have a mentality that leaves them frozen in time, including having difficulty trusting others. Children think concretely, not abstractly. They learn concepts of trust and love through their significant caregivers in life. The absence of such modelling can make it difficult for them to know what those look like. It’s as if “you are trying to describe the color green to someone who’s blind.” Participants need to learn to distinguish abuse from common conflicts or unhealthy interactions. We went through the definition of abuse, relating it to their personal stories. People have different histories of abuse, ranging from emotional and psychological abuse to sexual abuse from family members or their partners, all on different levels of severity. The abuse happened to participants of different ages. It is clear to see how that can create a sense of insecurity within a person, and subsequently lead to hypervigilance and confusion in their world views, and their principles setting in interaction with others. We ended the session by leading the participants to accept that these unfortunate events have happened and to allow those events to stay in the past. Group members started to feel more at ease after this and gained insights that they could apply in current or future relationships.
You can learn more about abusive relationships in this article: What is emotional abuse? | Classroom
Week 3: Exploring Common Ineffective Thoughts and How to Revise Them
Instead of having a therapist to participants conversations, the participants were encouraged to ask questions, give each other feedback, and practice active listening and non-judgment. One common psychological inflexibility all members showed was the fusion with their thoughts, as described in acceptance and commitment therapy. Instead of seeing thoughts in nature as changing, possibly conflicting, and not always reflecting the truth, some participants often have self-loathing thoughts and catastrophizing thoughts. The chess on the board metaphor was used for discussion to understand the new approach of observing these thoughts, instead of acting the negative thoughts.
Week 4: New Skills to Move Forward in Life
It was interesting to see how participants were on different ends of the spectrum of assertiveness. They were a mixture of passive, ineffectively assertive (defensive), and passive aggressive. Understanding where they are on the scale of assertiveness helps the participant to understand how to create healthier interactions when there’s a conflict. In this session, participants completed a role-play exercise to help them see their own assertive style and work on cultivating healthier interaction patterns.
Supplemental Individual Therapy
Every participant’s experience with trauma and current state of well-being is different. Individual sessions helped participants to work on specific issues that the group did not address. With some, individual sessions focused on self-awareness of their passions and callings in life, and elevating their mood, in addition to re-constructing their life activities to maintain well-being. With others, its individual sessions focused on managing their current burning issues in life. That included more effective and healthier ways to interact with their current partners, or building their self-sufficiency and self-reliance, and how to balance that in relationships.
Overall, the feedback from participants was positive. They felt the sessions provided them with great tools for overcoming negative thoughts and behavior. They also appreciated having a safe space to share their stories and connect with others who had been in similar situations. Not feeling alone was important for them. Participant A stated that having the group to interact with and hear from others made her “realize that others also are struggling” and that they could help learn from each other. Participant B said she “learned so much just in those four sessions” and that sharing the experience with other women provided “comfort and support.” Participants also expressed that they hoped these group therapies would be offered more regularly or on a more permanent basis.
Therapy should be an ongoing process, especially when there was trauma in the past. Through continued support and work, we can get closer to living a more fulfilled life. Along the way, we need patience, consistency, and continuing work. As a society, I hope we could create more spaces for that to be possible.
To get in touch with Megan, please add her on WeChat: meganpurvis
Xiaojie also offers discounted therapy for 200rmb/session for those who experience financial difficulty. Please scan the code below for more information.