Volume 7, Number 4, 1998

Abuse survivors soar

Stephen C. DiJulio, AS '78M,'81PhD, says he was inspired to help abuse survivors when one of the social workers at his private counseling practice in Wilmington, Del., pointed out the absence of any local treatment for sexual abuse trauma.

The therapist also found that any services available nearby were financially beyond the means of many potential clients.

Following up on this concern, DiJulio, fellow UD alum Jane G. Anderson, HP '67, and others established Survivors of Abuse in Recovery Inc. or, as it is better known, SOAR.

The group, which seeks grants and donations to fulfill its mission of providing treatment regardless of ability to pay, has helped hundreds of abuse survivors since SOAR was founded in 1992.

Anderson, the clinical director of SOAR and a licensed clinical social worker, explains that a survivor entering the SOAR program becomes involved in group therapy structured into three distinctly different phases.

"Phase one is about safety and stabilization," DiJulio says. "We want to make sure people feel safe here and are safe from themselves. Sometimes, these people have been so hurt, they try to perpetuate their own abuse by hurting themselves.

"It's important for them to learn how their sexual abuse has affected them and to gain some insight into how their own negative behaviors might result from that," he adds.

"When we have a sense the clients can manage themselves without using their old coping mechanisms, such as suicide attempts, addictions or eating disorders, they graduate to phase two," Anderson says.

"This is the trauma work-processing the trauma and dealing with their own demons. This is about experiencing feelings and directing those feelings toward the perpetrators instead of themselves. It's about resolving shame and being able to put trauma behind them," DiJulio says.

"Once survivors realize they can tell their stories and express their previously hidden feelings in front of other people, they feel differently. They come back to the present more whole then they were before they revisited their past," Anderson explains.

Phase three continues the process of reconnecting to the present by focusing on current relationships and processing the work completed in phase two.

"Once you feel differently about yourself, it's important to look around and see how you're going to be different," Anderson says.

Participation in the National Organization For Women's Clothesline Project is part of phase three. In that process, SOAR participants create T-shirts for display on a clothesline. The shirts, displayed across the country much as the AIDS quilt is, are symbols for the survivors who have made public the things they once kept hidden.

Anderson says her happy home life, music and reading help her get away from the many sorrows she hears about in the office.

DiJulio says he relies heavily on his training, his coworkers and his family to help him step back from his clients' problems.

"We practice what we preach and nurture ourselves," he says.

-Beth Thomas