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Local support society helps men dealing with trauma and abuse

By: Mike Davies

There are many government funded – or subsidized – programs out there that help women who are being abused or dealing with the trauma associated with abuse. And rightly so.

But the same cannot be said about services for men, according to the North Island Survivors’ Healing Society, which is trying to change that.

The local society has been offering subsidized counselling services for men – without government funding – for 14 years.

“Sadly, there are a large number of women who have been abused,” says Janet Carmichael, executive director of the society. “But there are also a large number of men who have been abused – it’s just a lesser-told story.

“The vision of the founders of the society, when it started, was that there would be services available for both,” Carmichael adds. “But for a while, it was only for women, because that was all the funding that was available. “So we’d receive phone calls from men who were looking for service for themselves, or from the hospital or other service providers in the community asking ‘do you do this or know anyone who does this?’ and we’d have to give them names of people in private practice, because that was really the only solution,” she continues.

“But that is cost prohibitive for a lot of people.” So they thought, “we’ve got some extra money saved because we’d done some fundraising, so we decided that for one year, we could offer a spot to one man, and we started there.”

They then managed to secure a gaming grant and some money from the United Way to increase the amount of time they could offer to men at $25 per session, instead of the $100 or more it would cost through a private practice. “We’re doing what we can. Even at $25, there are some who still can’t afford it,” Carmichael admits, “but at least it’s within range of some men who need the services, so more men have access than would otherwise.

“There are only about eight organizations in the province that run programs like ours,” Carmichael continues. “There’s no regular funding for this, either provincial or federal, but there are little pockets of us here and there where people have just felt really strongly about this and decided to try and make it work.”

What they do is offer subsidized counselling services from registered clinical counsellors like Celia Laval. “A lot of men we see haven’t been victims of violence as adults,” Laval says.

“Some have, for sure, but oftentimes it’s the childhood scars that we see. So, it’s grown men that were victims of physical or sexual physical abuse as children that we see most. But, yes, we also see men who are suffering violence or harassment from women as adults and that trauma can really destroy things for them in their ability to cope.”

Laval says men suffering from trauma can have difficulty with anger management issues; they definitely suffer in their relationships – including in their ability to form positive ones – or they may have confidence or anxiety issues.

“It could manifest as obsessive compulsive issues, the inability to trust people or the inability to form good relationships,” she says.

“I see a lot of guys who are very isolated because, in part, the notions of masculinity that a lot of guys have make it difficult for them to heal because they feel like they’re supposed to be tough and they’re not supposed to be vulnerable. So it’s very hard for them to reach out.”

It’s become easier, Carmichael says, for men to ask for help, though, thanks to an increasing number of voices raising the issue in a very public way.

“I think that makes it safer for the average guy to come forward and say they need help when there’s a big-name hockey player that comes forward or we start hearing about big scandals being brought to light,” Carmichael says.

“I’m always encouraged when a celebrity comes forward with a story, because people pay attention to celebrities and they move the needle and take the lid off the subject, but I wish that didn’t need to happen for men to know that reaching out for help isn’t a sign of weakness.”

One reason men feel it’s a sign of weakness to reach out for help, Carmichael says, is because they think, “other men can just cope, so I should be able to, too.” But there’s no formula for who suffers trauma or how it affects them.

“We see men of all ages and backgrounds,” Carmichael says. “We’ve had everyone from the high school dropout to the university graduate come through the door. Caucasians, mainly, but also First Nations. People who are retired, people working in high-functioning jobs and people who are unemployed. It really runs the whole gamut.”

Most importantly, Carmichael and Laval agree, is for men – no matter their background or circumstance – to realize that it’s okay to feel. And it’s okay to ask for help with those feelings.

“Men are human, too,” Laval says. “They can be vulnerable and they can be abused – and they should realize that they can reach out for support and be given that support. It’s not a weakness to ask for help. It’s a strength, as far as I’m concerned.”

For more information on the North Island Survivors’ Healing Society, head online to nishs.ca or give them a call at 250-287-3325

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