Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Teen Therapy Groups

Despite greater public awareness of gender inequality, studies on teen girls have repeatedly shown that girls lose self-esteem and self-confidence between the ages of thirteen and eighteen.  Girls lose themselves as they try to become what the dominant culture defines.  Girls are neurologically and physiologically built to “tend and befriend,” to grow and thrive by harnessing the emotional and social benefits of close relationships.

Research has been repeatedly shown that girls’ developmental strivings for autonomy are coupled with a strong desire to maintain important relationships, and further the emotional intimacy within these relationships.

At Womencare, our teen therapy groups are designed not only to meet the ordinary challenges young women face, but also the traumatic challenges they must work to overcome.  Within these groups, the growth of each girl’s autonomous self, which strives for competency and individuality, can be encouraged and celebrated.  Within our groups, the growth of each girl’s relational self, which desires connection and collaboration with others, can be developed and nurtured.  When provided with a safe place to give voice to goals, dreams, feelings and desires that may be in sync with or run  counter to the dominant culture, girls are afforded the opportunity to find and honor their true selves. 
We invite you to visit our website,, to check out our two teen therapy groups, A.R.T. Adolescent Girls Reclaiming Themselves and Stronger Together, which are specifically created to meet the needs of young women as they grow through their adolescent years.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Launching the Womencare Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Program

The memories of traumatic events are often stored in our bodies and may lay dormant.  Talk therapy with a trauma therapist can help move wordless, unspeakable events into words.  Yet sometimes, these memories are still held in our bodies.  There is a growing body of evidence to support that yoga is helpful in managing anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress. 

As an adjunct treatment for trauma, Womencare will be launching a trauma-sensitive yoga program.  Beginning in January 2014, Womencare will offer a trauma-sensitive yoga (TSY) group on Monday nights from 7:30 to 8:30 pm.  No previous yoga experience is necessary to join this group.  You do need to have an individual talk therapist in order to participate.

Trauma-sensitive yoga is different from traditional yoga.  TSY is yoga that focuses on creating safety so that students can practice:  interoception, choice, and action.  Interoception is sensitivity to stimuli originating inside of the body; it is a specific type of mindfulness that focuses on body-based internal experiences.  Traditional yoga classes are often directive and command-based whereas TSY classes incorporate invitational language.  Also, traditional yoga classes often involve the yoga teacher adjusting students by physically placing his/her hands on your body.  In TSY, there are no physical adjustments or assists.  Students can safely practice yoga without worrying whether the yoga teacher will touch them.

Interested folks may also participate in individual trauma-sensitive yoga sessions, if they prefer.  If you are interested in the trauma-sensitive yoga group or in individual sessions, please contact yoga teacher and staff therapist, Alissa Catiis at 847-475-7003 x37.

For more information about yoga and trauma, click here.

If you are interested in trying a chair-based trauma-sensitive yoga class, click here.

Friday, December 6, 2013

My Reflections on Nelson Mandela

Image from BCLC

Nelson Mandela was a not only a great man, but also a humble man, and a man of vision courage and wisdom. To me, he was a hero, a hero at a time when we have too few.

Nelson Mandela understood trauma.  He survived twenty-seven years in prison. He believed in justice and forgiveness. He invited his jailer to his inauguration to be president of South Africa.

In 1996 I was invited to South Africa to be part of a delegation of trauma therapists to study post-traumatic stress.  This was a time when South Africa was in the midst of massive social change, beginning to rebuild its very foundation. I had the privilege of attending the inauguration of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Capetown.  President Mandela stood in that church in Capetown because he believed that the traumas of the past must be addressed and acknowledged or they would come to haunt the new South Africa.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a public forum for private grief where many would come to understand the power of community witnessing.  Its mission was to encourage truth telling about what happened during the years of apartheid and, through hearing the truth, to mourn and heal.

Image from History Channel, Text Added

“Ordinary South Africans", Nelson Mandela explained, "are determined that the past be known, the better to insure that it is not repeated. They seek this not out of revenge, but so we can move into the future together.”

In dark times, Nelson Mandela’s story, his legacy, can give hope and inspiration. To transform traumatic experiences into acts of justice and forgiveness is a way to honor his legacy. Surely we will all fall short but that does not give us an excuse not to try.

-Laurie KahnMA, MFA, LCPC, Director of Womencare Counseling Center

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Staying Honest This Season

I know you celebrate something... Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas or that Seinfeld holiday George made up. There is almost inescapable, manic pressure in our country to wrap perfect presents when the weather turns cold. Whatever it is that has you pulling out your dress slacks and making that bread bowl spinach dip people go crazy for, I actually won't suggest that you "remember the reason for the Season.”

I won't suggest you savor the glow in a child's eyes as the warm radiance of holiday lights glisten off the snow reflecting their timeless joy. Those messages often shame us. We end up hauling our overtired 6-year-old away from the damn bowl of red and green M&M's for the millionth time at the holiday party of the snippy neighbor we resolved to be nicer to, using that harsh voice we resolved last New Year’s to abolish.

I could instead give you permission to leave the wrapping paper all over the floor and roll in it after opening presents, to get a babysitter on December 23rd, and eat the grilled cheese sandwich you actually like, instead of your aunt's beef wellington.

That's good, but what I really want to suggest you do this winter is something taboo. Really taboo. I want you to talk to your kids about how all the pressure of the magic and merriment stresses people out and explain that they're probably feeling that too. About how wonderful family get-togethers sometimes cause a confusing pit in their stomachs because it seems like everyone is smiling, but a lot is not being said. I want you to notice when your child is looking out the window with glazed eyes and ask yourself, have they been so bowled over by the frenzy to be blissful that they're panicked something is wrong with them because they're feeling drained and dissatisfied?

Holidays are hard for kids, too. Maybe harder. They don't know that it's a bunch of bunk to have the brightest bow, the best new bike, and the most creative holiday plans to go skiing, help the homeless, and batik your own Holiday Cards. They see the commercials and holiday marketing, too. So, create a magical holiday for them by making the spinach dip, stringing up lights, AND talking to them about how icky it was that Mommy and Daddy yelled at each other in the grocery store over what size Pannetone cake to get for the new 4th grade science teacher.  

It won't take away from the magic-  being honest and present is the magic. It will make the holidays cleaner, clearer, and better connected. Looking at the bad doesn't negate the good. You'll emerge partners in knowing that you'll be there for them in whatever confusing illusion is wrapping everyone else up in stress and sparkly sweaters. They'll know you see them… and nothing feels better at any time of the year.

*This post was written by Womencare Staff Member Jennifer Cutilletta, LCSW

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Multicultural Holiday Lessons from Childhood

Imagine a gymnasium full of elementary school-aged children singing Hanukkah songs like “I Have A Little Dreidel” and “Hanukkah, O Hanukkah” right along with traditional Christmas carols.  This was the scene in December at my public elementary school in Lincolnwood, Todd Hall.  One of the ways that I learned about Hanukkah, the Jewish eight-day festival of lights celebrated sometime in November or December, was through songs.  In middle school, my friends and I attended bar and bat mitzvahs, Jewish coming of age rituals.  I was extremely fortunate to have grown up in a diverse neighborhood. 

I also remember that around the holiday season or sometimes before it, there was a boy who would stay inside for indoor recess for a few weeks.  His family was Muslim, and he was fasting for the month of Ramadan.  During Ramadan, practicing Muslim families fast between sunrise and sunset.  Although I did not appreciate this as much as I do now, by choosing to support this child’s family’s religious practices by providing him with a safe space, my school was teaching me cultural competency.  Sharing the same classrooms and playgrounds with children from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds was one of the most valuable experiences I could have been given as a child.

During this holiday season, I encourage you to embrace the diversity in your own neighborhoods.  Whether this diversity stems from differences in culture, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender expression, special needs, or some other way we are different, we can find small and large ways to learn from and connect with each other and our shared humanity.  Check out this multicultural holiday calendar.

This blog post was written by Alissa Catiis, Staff Therapist and Yoga Teacher at Womencare Counseling Center.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Stress Reduction for the Holidays

The Thanksgiving season is a time of year to stop and reflect on all we have to be thankful for in our lives. However, it is also a time when unique seasonal stressors can take center stage. Traffic, weather changes, holiday shopping, and busy schedules are some common stressors in November and December. This season can also bring up some more serious stressors including financial concerns, unhealthy family dynamics, and feelings of loneliness.

When feeling stressed, consider these strategies:

  1. Exhale. After you have fully exhaled, inhale slowly. Your breath is really central for bringing your nervous system from the stressed sympathetic nervous system to the more relaxing and calming parasympathetic nervous system. 
  2. Take 5. This can be 5 minutes to yourself, 5 slow breaths, or 5 paces. 
  3. Consider starting a contemplative practice, even if it is only for one minute every day. How might your work day change if you started every morning with one minute of silence or one minute of focused attention on your breathing? How might one minute of silence at the start of a meeting change workplace dynamics? How might your home change if you spent one concentrated minute looking at a safe, comforting object or work of art every evening? 
  4. Stretch. I invite you to take a moment to center and ground yourself in your chair. You can interlace your fingers and stretch your arms up above your head and over to each side, if you like. Notice that your breath can always be moving, even when you are doing a simple stretch. 
  5. Self-massage. Massage your neck, shoulders, arms, scalp, hips, or wherever you feel like you are holding tension and stress. 
These are some of my favorite tips for reducing stress around the holiday season. What are some of your favorite tips?

This blog post was written by Alissa Catiis, Staff Therapist and Yoga Teacher at Womencare Counseling Center.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Truly Special Holiday Season: What Families With Special Needs Wish People Knew For The Holidays

Glowing candles. Ringing bells. Hugs. Cheek pinching. Kisses. Food. Presents. Snow. More food. 

The holiday season often puts us all in overload, but for families with special needs, it means navigating an emotional and sensory minefield. And, with the best will in the world, extended family can contribute to that- or they can help with it.   We all want holidays to have meaning, tradition and joy.

When your little one lives a little differently in the world, you don’t wish for the newest Elmo, you wish for family and friends to get it and to help make the holidays special- even if it’s in a new way.

It’s hard to understand and remember all the pieces that we families with special needs hold. Some things to think about…

Forcing the magic

Many families named their wish that people would understand that their kids don’t always find the magic in the usual places- whether it be spinning the dreidl or visiting Santa. Many parents have had to let go of their own wish for their kids to respond to holiday traditions as they did or their other children do and have had to accept a different picture- it can hurt to renegotiate this acceptance with every push from yet another family member. Try to realize that every kid has a different experience.

“Johnny doesn’t get Santa. And doesn’t care,” says Anna, whose 6-year-old has Down Syndrome. My son, who also has Down Syndrome, LOVES Santa… but he loves all jolly, grandfatherly men. He loves our local crossing guard with equal enthusiasm.

Gift-giving can also disappoint, when kids have- or demonstrate- a lack of interest. Sometimes, kids are overwhelmed; other times, they really don’t care. But when the giver is obviously disappointed, parents feel badly, even though they truly appreciate the care their families put into choosing gifts or arranging special experiences. As a visible expression of love and respect, efforts at inclusion matter for the child, their siblings and their parents, but so does acceptance of what truly matters to the child.

“Nick wants the same things at holidays as he does the rest of the time, love and cuddles, someone to dance with him to music, more pretzels and blueberries,” writes Audrey.

Safety issues

Many kids with special needs take off when the spirit moves them. And they take off quickly. “It would be so helpful if people would secure their houses- doors and maybe dangerous basement rooms.  We tell people they need to baby-proof, but to remember that he has the capability of a 12-year-old to figure out locks. But they still don’t quite get it, and then he’s running off into traffic or down the street,” says Hannah, whose 8 year-old-son has autism. Ask parents about reasonable interventions to keep their child safe- or be prepared for them to have to follow their child around all day.

Dietary issues

Most people worry about weight gain over the holidays. For families with special needs, there may be more immediate concerns, such food intolerances or sensory issues.  Some kids exhibit immediate and intense reactions to foods most people ingest without difficulty. Ask parents what concerns exist, or ask for suggestions for safe food. But don’t assume everyone will “find something,” or be offended when the family brings a special dish or meal for their child. And please respect the reality of the family’s experiences- don’t dismiss celiac disease as a fad, or a sensory issue as poor parenting. “My mom thought I was being mean when I stopped him after two cookies,” says Jen, whose child has food sensitivities and sensory issues. “After all, it was Christmas and he was at Grandma’s house.”  Trust the parents- odds are very good they’ve spent hundreds of hours and much money in determining what’s safe or in helping their child tolerate even a limited variety of foods.

Physical Needs

Please feel free to ask families if there are particular physical issues that you can try to help them address. Don’t assume it’s more polite to pretend everyone is the same, and might not need some special thought. For some families, “normal” days means figuring out how their child will be able to use the bathroom, or get up stairs, in homes that aren’t wheelchair accessible. For others, it’s providing cleared paths for those that are visually impaired. It’s a huge relief when others reach out to think with them, and when the goal is clearly to make the day good for everyone.

Food or sleep schedule

Some kids get a little more than cranky when hungry or sleep-deprived. (Remember the Hulk? ) With already irregular holiday schedules, children, and their parents, may be holding onto calm by the skin of their teeth. For kids needing a routine and very clear expectations, the thought of eating a meal at 3 p.m. instead of their usual 5 or 6 p.m. can be incredibly disregulating. Please support the parents if they attend to their kids’ needs separately.  Keep in mind that they’re doing it for the whole family’s sake, as well as their child. And trust the parents who insist on a regular bedtime… really.

Sensory overwhelm

Create a sensory corner- a quiet area that isn’t covered in glitter or surrounded by candles. Probably a good idea for all children, it’s essential for some. Some kids take matters into their own hands. It took time for me to understand why my son would immediately hunt out bedrooms in whatever house we visited. I finally realized he was seeking a safe space for when he was overwhelmed. Quietly pointing out a corner with books or a TV and naming permission to use it could be the biggest gift of all.

In the end, we all want a little magic to lighten the dark hours of winter. Ultimately, the true magic this season may be when we open our eyes and try to be with each other just as we are.

*All names in this article have been changed*

Ellen Lonnquist, MS, LMFT, is a family therapist at Womencare Counseling Center in Evanston, IL and a mother to two beautiful kids, one of whom has Down Syndrome. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ubuntu - The Meaning And Power of Groups

This is a story from Laurie Kahn’s introduction to our conference about the meaning and power of groups. 

In 1998, when I visited trauma clinics in South Africa, I met Craig, a psychologist in South Africa. Craig was assigned to meet with a group of women who had lost their homes.

Many of the women had also lost their sons in the struggle to end apartheid. Craig hoped he could be a vehicle for healing for these women. He hoped he could help them with their grief. 

“How can I help?”  Craig asked.   

“We want tools for a garden,” the women responded. 

“But, I am a psychologist.” 

“That’s nice," the women said, “we need tools for a garden.”

I don't know anything about gardening, Craig thought.  But, Craig found a way to round up some tools for the women of this township to till a garden.

In the heat of the day, the women gathered together to create a garden. With sweat on their brows, they dug in the earth, they told their stories, they cried together, they sang danced and planted food for their families. 

They had no interest in talking to one person; they had no interest in being away from the land or to be inside behind a closed door. What they needed to heal was each other and a shovel in their hands.

The central spiritual belief of South Africans I learned is embodied in the word ‘Ubuntu.’  Ubuntu is the essence of being human. It speaks about interconnectedness. “You can't be human all by yourself,” Bishop TUTU was fond of saying.

-Laurie Kahn, MA, MFA, LCPC

Image Credits: Image One, Image Two

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Being A 'Helper' After Typhoon Haiyan

Our hearts go out to those in the Philippines as they begin their struggle to recover from the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan (known in the Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda), reported to possibly be the most powerful storm ever to make landfall. From the reports of the impact of the storm, it will take a lot of helpers to support this country in beginning to put the pieces back together. We know the healing that can come from knowing that there are people out there trying to help in the wake of tragedy. 

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” 
-Fred Rogers

We have attached a graph of helping organizations, if you are able to and would like to be one of the helpers.  

-Ellen Lonnquist, MS, LMFT

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Alissa Catiis Now Accepting Clients!

We would love to introduce you to our wonderful new addition to the Womencare team! Alissa Catiis, MA, LCSW, is now accepting new clients. For more information on Alissa, read her bio here.

Alissa is a bilingual systems therapist who draws on psychodynamic, relational, and developmental theory in her work with children, adolescents, and adults. She is very creative and enjoys using that in her work through the integration of art, literature, movement, and writing into her clinical work. She believes that each person's path towards healing and wellness is unique and is prepared to offer a variety of interventions!

Alissa is available to train, present, or consult on:

  • Contemplative clinical practice
  • Creative and body-based interventions for managing stress and healing trauma
  • Trauma-sensitive yoga for survivors and clinicians
  • Self-care for helping professionals
  • Supporting teen parents

To work with Alissa, you can reach her at 847-475-7003, extension 37.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Yoga for Trauma Survivors in Clinical Settings - 10/10

As part of our foray into the blog world, we would like to increase your awareness of events Womencare Counseling Center is involved in. Our new staff therapist, Alissa Catiis, will be speaking at an event this month. We'd love for you to join her!

Event Details
Yoga for Trauma Survivors in Clinical Settings
  • Date and Time: Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 9:00am
  • Location: NASW IL, 404 S Wells, 4th Floor, Chicago, IL 60607
  • Presented by: Alissa Catiis
  • Cost: $30 Nonmember / FREE NASW IL Member (+$8 Live Virtual)
  • Registration: Follow this link to register.
  • CEUs Earned: 2

When combined with effectively sensitive instructors, the practice of yoga has the power to heal. Join Alissa Catiis to explore yoga and its ability to help people from trauma with the help of sensitive yoga instructors.

In this experimental workshop, clinicians will explore yoga tools effective for managing anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress that can be taught to clients in your office. These tools include: breathing exercise, meditations, self-inquiry exercise, mudras (hand gestures, and mantras (sounds, words, or group of words). This workshop will also include:
  • An overview of trauma and its impact on the brain and the body
  • Why trauma-sensitive yoga is needed and how yoga impacts the brain and body
  • Foundational principles of trauma-sensitive yoga
  • Yoga tools effective for managing anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress that clinicians can incorporate into therapy

If you are interested in attending this event or learning more, please follow this link to register or contact us.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Village Weeping - In Memoriam of 9/11

Director Laurie Kahn wrote the following post only months after the events that transpired on September 11th, 2001. It has been twelve years since these words were penned, but their insights and emotions still ring true.
I have returned to New York many times since September 11 and always find myself wandering back to the damage. The streets surrounding ground zero are littered with memorials. Teddy bears with red white and blue ribbons around their necks. Plaques with the names of police and firefighters who died in the World Trade Center. Street corner memorials with wilted flowers and names of loved ones scribbled on cardboard with frayed edges. A bicycle chained to a lamppost, draped with flowers and a red scarf, and dedicated to a bicycle messenger. Construction workers with pictures sewn on the back of their work clothes of a friend lost in the disaster. Circling the streets you know something horrific has happened. Grief is in the air. Maybe a little less palpable now than in September or October but it is undeniable. Every time I revisit the memorials it is strangely reassuring. I worry as I age I may become one of those people who  spend their spare time going to funerals of people they barely knew. Communities gathering, praying, grieving and collectively honoring their losses – it soothes me. Pain mitigated by the embrace of friends and neighbors.
It is the unwitnessed losses that trouble me. The ones that are hidden. Where communities don’t gather and tears are not shed. The places in which there are no memorials.
I am haunted by the unnamed losses of my clients. The loneliness that comes when your public cheeriness is camouflage for the pain inside. The isolation that comes when the stories of your childhood are riddled with violence and abuse, and don’t make good dinner conversation. Not knowing the comfort of friendship because your desire for closeness is coupled with fear. The loss of pleasure because you experience shame with sexual desire. Not finding relationships that nourish because again and again you choose ones that mirror what you learned in an abusive family. The loss of not having had the comfort of an adult when you were in pain. The loss of not being a virgin when you chose your first lover.
My heart aches and I wonder where are the memorials, the teddy bears, the plaques with the names of those who lost their childhoods. Those who have had to resurrect from the ashes a capacity to love, a sense of self and dignity. I sit in my office behind closed doors. I companion my clients; together we walk through the debris of betrayals. I know there is a need greater than what I can provide. My compassion and skills are not adequate to the magnitude of the developmental and psychological scars of their traumas. The stories are hard to hear, yet I wonder why are so many people willing, even clamoring, to witness the site of the terrorist attack on New York and so unwilling to know and witness the losses suffered by childhood abuse.

I want to assure my clients that their grief is not theirs to bear alone. It belongs to all of us. I want to tell them that there should be a moment of silence every day in every community where a child’s spirit was lost. That child we all know or have glanced at or have been ourselves, the one whose eyes stopped sparkling with curiosity and wonder. I want to tell them if they listen very carefully they can hear a village weeping. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Trauma and Recovery: The Art of Creating and Sustaining Effective Groups for Trauma Survivors

As part of our foray into the blog world, we would like to increase your awareness of events Womencare Counseling Center is involved in or hosting. Please take a look at this event, which is happening at the end of October. We'd love for you to join us!

Event Details
Trauma and Recovery: The Art of Creating and Sustaining Effective Groups for Trauma Survivors
  • Date and Time: Friday, October 25th, 2013, from 9:00am - 4:30pm.
  • Location: Orrington Hotel, Evanston Illinois
  • Presented by: Judith Herman and Emily Schatzow
  • Cost: $150 through September 30th, $175 after September 30th. Call for group rates.
  • To Register, click here.
  • 6 CEUs are available

Like many trauma therapists, we were raised on Judith Herman’s seminal book Trauma and Recovery (1992). Now, The Trauma Recovery Group: A Guide for Practitioners has arrived. This comprehensive handbook emerged from thirty years of experience and research on trauma focused recovery groups.

From the initial intake interview to the concluding session, our presenters Judith Herman and Emily Schatzow, will provide a road map for facilitating ‘stage two’ trauma focused groups for survivors of interpersonal traumas. They will outline the skills, foundations and structures that are necessary for a successful group.

A panel of therapists from Womencare will join Judith Herman and Emily Schatzow in the afternoon to answer questions and to talk honestly about the lessons of many years of experience leading groups for trauma survivors. They will discuss mistakes they have made, the challenges they have encountered and the triumphs that have sustained them. Therapists on the panel will include Laurie Kahn, LCPC; Judith Ierulli, LCSW; Monica Robinson, LCSW; and Alissa Catiis, LCSW. The panel will be moderated by Ellen Lonnquist, LMFT.

Conference Objectives:
  • To gain understanding for how group therapy is particularly useful for trauma survivors.
  • To integrate six key elements of the Trauma Recovery Group with your practice.
  • To conceptualize the importance of individualized group treatment goals.
  • To identify at least three key differences between “stage one” and “stage two” trauma groups.
  • To make meaning from the successes and mishaps of the panelists‘ experiences with facilitating trauma groups.
From a Review by Laurie Kahn:

"Those of us who have the privilege to lead groups for survivors know the irresistible and compelling nature of groups. The sharing of trauma narratives, coupled with members’ willingness to bear witness, can melt the layers of shame from the many untold secrets and from the insidious isolation created by the interpersonal traumas. The group provides an experience of empathic connections that foster safety and a sense of belonging.

However, if you lead a recovery group and lack strong group skills, guidance, or good supervision you also know that when a group goes awry the group members’ sense of safety is compromised and your confidence as a group leader is eroded. The group can become fertile ground for traumatic enactments, affect dysregulation, and for experiences that re-traumatize rather than enlighten."

-Laurie Kahn

We hope to see you there!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Barack Obama on Trayvon Martin Verdict

Image from NPR's "Trayvon Martin Could Have Been Me 35 Years Ago."

The community at Womencare was moved by President Obama’s remarks on the Trayvon Martin verdict.

With courage he spoke to us as a leader of a nation, as a peace-keeper in our communities, as a compassionate witness, and as a black man. 

In our work and in our lives, we have witnessed and felt the realities of discrimination, difference, injustice, hatred and fear. 

As Obama illustrated, context plays a foundational role in helping individuals understand themselves and each other, and in healing the wounds within ourselves and in our communities.

It takes time.  There has been progress.  And, we are not done. 

We support Obama in speaking the truth, building empathy, bridging differences, encouraging curiosity, and moving our process forward together.

To watch video footage of President Obama's remarks, see below.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book Review: Rape Is Rape

Below is a book review by Judith Ierulli, LCSW of the book "Rape Is Rape: How Denial, Distortion and Victim Blaming Are Fueling a Hidden Acquaintance Rape Crisis" by Jody Raphael, JD and published by Lawrence Hill Books in 2013. The book review was initially published here

In the powerful new book, Rape Is Rape: How Denial, Distortion and Victim Blaming Are Fueling a Hidden Acquaintance Rape Crisis, Jody Raphael takes a balanced but unflinching look at the media, the public, rape deniers, and how they support the behavior of rapist, impact victims, and judicial outcomes. She also makes room for the voice of the survivor as they try to make meaning of the unthinkable. Their changed lives after the assaults include: giving voice to their confusion and shame, the impact of others as they disclose the rape, reactions from friends, family, and the hospital, rape evidence collection, the media, police intervention (if they are able to have charges filed), and the court system.
The understanding of rape in our society is colored by how we understand sexual violence, its prevalence, and who rapes. Is it rape if you were drunk or high, if you were asleep, if you didn’t fight hard enough to leave bruises or physical evidence of trauma? Is it rape if you went willing into a room, car, or a party dressed in a way that can be deemed sexually provocative? In 80% of reported rape cases the victim knows the perpetrator. Raphael’s book examines the arguments of what is “real” rape versus what is bad sex or alcohol-fueled miscommunication. The answer should be that rape is rape.
“If you think about rape, it is the taking away of an ability to express love. It shatters the way you connect to everyone. It involves where your core intimacy lies and your love, and when that is involved, it shatters the way you connect to every human being,” said one of the rape survivors in the book on the way the experience affected her.
The latest study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that 12.3% of American women over 18—more than 14 million women—state that they have been forcibly penetrated within their lifetime. There have been 620,000 women raped within the last twelve months. This number does not include men and children under the age of 18, but think of what the number would be if it did. This book looks at how entrenched beliefs from both sides of the argument impact how we as a society deal with far-reaching effects of sexual violence. The collusion to minimize acquaintance rape from feminist and conservatives voices distorts the cultural understanding of what is rape. Is it really a price of women’s sexual freedom or a result of women’s promiscuity?
In her book Raphael explores rape deniers perpetuating the dangerous indifference that can deeply affect institutions: police, church, and educators. Looking closely at the rape statistics collected, examining their methodology and distortions of statistics, she reveals how by using incorrect or incomplete data, supporters of survivors of sexual violence can do damage to the very cause they are trying to support. Data has been misconstrued and twisted by those who want to minimize or flat-out reject the findings, using outdated information or studies that are just plain wrong.
Raphael effectively give us current context by looking at high-profile examples of rape cases to understand how strong and pervasive the distortions are—from Julian Assange, Todd Akin, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Kobe Bryant, and the armed forces. What gets lost in the debate is that rape is not about sex; it is about power, violence, control, and the utter humiliation of the victim.
In her book, Raphael states, “Rape is probably the only offense in which a suspect can successfully defend himself by claiming that the victim consented to the crime, which causes the police to intensely scrutinize the believability of the injured party’s description of events.” 
She ends her well-written book with hope and a guide to steps that we as a community and country can do create a world without rape denial. This is a powerful, moving, extremely well-researched work that brings a focused light to a complex issue. She ends with, “There is only truth. And we all must tell the truth. Denying rape makes society unsafe for women and allows predators to go free. Rape is rape.”

Judith Ierulli, LCSW

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Trauma Consultation Group Information and FAQ

We are now taking applications for the Fall Trauma Consultation Program (more information here).

Those of us who work with trauma survivors face unique challenges. If we are to sustain ourselves in this work, it is imperative that we participate in a community that adequately supports us. These once a month consultation groups focus on the therapeutic complexities of working with trauma survivors by paying special attention to the impact on the clinicians. 

  • What is it? The Trauma Consultation Group is a unique, nationally recognized program in the field of Traumatic Stress. In our meetings, we focus on the impact of trauma consultations on the clinicians. Our program involves Didactic Presentations, Group Process, Experiential Learning, Case Consultation, and Peer Support
  • Who should participate? We welcome clinicians who work with neglected and abused children, victims of domestic violence, victims of sexual assault, acute and chronic trauma survivors, and clients with PTSD. This year, including our advanced groups, we had 55 students who worked in different settings with traumatized populations.  *This program is open to professionals in health-related fields, and is not suitable for the general public.*
  • When does it meet? At Womencare Counseling, the Trauma Consultation Group begins in the Fall and meets on Fridays once a month from September to June
  • Are Continuing Education Credits available? Up to 24 CEUs are available per year. Womencare Counseling Center is approved to offer continuing education credits for Social Workers, Professionals Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

How to Register:
Complete the application found at and submit it with a $25 application fee to: Womencare Counseling Center, 1740 Ridge Avenue, Suite 201, Evanston, IL 60201, attn: TCG.

If you would like more information, please see our brochure or reach out to Laurie Kahn (847-475-7003, x22).

Friday, June 14, 2013

ALSO’s 18th Annual Walk for Peace

This past Saturday, June 8th for the 18th consecutive year, hundreds of people from across Chicago joined with the Alliance of Local Service Organizations (ALSO) to Walk for Peace. The theme of this year’s Walk was "Partners Against Violence in Our Streets, Homes and Schools: Men and Women Working Together," and called for allies, partnerships and power sharing to address violence in all its forms.

This event provided a space to not only give voice to some of the experiences of violence taking place in Chicago but also allowed for opportunities to celebrate good works and continued efforts around safety and peace.  


Dominant media and culture lends itself to the notion of separateness between people, groups, and communities. It is up to us to walk away from this notion. Respectfully acknowledging our commonalities and differences as human beings along with exploring the root causes of violence through a lens of justice, will assist us on this journey. Demonstrating safety in the spaces of violence, partnerships in the wake of separateness, and power sharing in places of oppression will help us all walk towards peace.

Want to learn more about ALSO?: The mission of ALSO ( is to end violence in the homes and streets of communities nationwide. Incorporated in 1998, ALSO was created to coordinate services for youth and families in the Logan Square community on Chicago’s Northwest Side. Becoming aware of the devastating impact of community violence on those families ALSO began to take action by implementing prevention programs to end street violence. In 2007, ALSO expanded its violence prevention and intervention efforts to include intimate partner violence. By working to end violence more broadly, ALSO began to see connections between violence on the streets and violence in the home.

Today, ALSO works both locally and nationally to end violence. By expanding its reach, ALSO informs its national work from a local perspective and brings knowledge and best practices from around the country to our neighborhoods in Chicago.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013



Wordlessness is a salient feature of trauma. Language falls short in the face of atrocities and betrayals. Writers search for metaphors and images to capture the terror and shock. So when I hear a few lucid words, or find them in myself, I want to write them down. Sometimes I write on a napkin, a post-it note, or in desperation I scribble on my hand hoping to transfer the words to paper before my next shower. 

Sunday, I was at The Naomi Ruth Cohen conference on trauma.  In the morning I sat on an uncomfortable chair waiting for the opening address, restlessly reviewing my notes for my afternoon presentation. The speaker was Rabbi Eleanor Smith, a rabbi who in mid-career left the pulpit to go to medical school and become a doctor.  A healer of body and spirit.  I was intrigued and then moved.  I madly scribbled down her words because they were worth remembering.

Here are two quotes from her speech I would like to share.

“Trauma is a thing that happens without permission or invitation, a darkness that slips through the curtain, an intruder that breaches the walls of the self that each of us holds sacred.”

“It (trauma) is the acute state of suffering without haven, the desolate lack of sanctuary in a time of great vulnerability.” 

Thank you Rabbi Eleanor Smith for words that capture the unspeakable.