Pharaon Consulting Group, Inc. mail

Pharaon Consulting Group, Inc. (PCG) is a consulting company that provides a range of psychological, coaching, and counseling services to individuals, couples, and groups. Founded in 1997 by counseling psychologist Dr. Nora Alarifi Pharaon, PCG is a US-based company with global outreach and focuses on these core offerings:

  • * Consulting
  • * Psychotherapy
  • * Testing and Evaluation
  • * Coaching
How to find us:

17 Ames Avenue
Rutherford, NJ 07070

Group therapy with Arab American victims of domestic violence

Dr. Nora Alarifi Pharaon
Pharaon Consulting Group, Inc.
AGPA, New Orleans
February 18-23, 2003

Group therapy with Arab American victims of domestic violence

How does group therapy help patients? A naïve question, but, if we can answer it with some measure of precision and certainty, we will have at our disposal a central organizing principle by which to approach the most vexing and controversial problems of psychotherapy. Once identified, the crucial aspects of the process of change will constitute a rational basis upon which the therapist may base tactics and strategy.

I suggest that therapeutic change is an enormously complex process that occurs through an intricate interplay of human experiences, which I will refer to as “therapeutic factors”. There is considerable advantage in approaching the complex through the simple, the total phenomenon through its basic component processes. Accordingly, I will use some of the fundamental factors that were presented by Irvin Yalom 4th edition and describe how these have been used in running groups at the Arab American Family Support Center for victims of domestic violence living within the community in Brooklyn, NY.

I started running groups for victims of domestic violence at the Center one year ago. These open groups were started due to what seemed to be a significant increase in instances of domestic violence among the households of the Arab American community. It was believed that the backlash of 9/11 was primarily responsible for these reported incidents given the increasing level of anxiety and stressors experienced by Arab American males. The traumatic stress resulting from racial bias and identification with the perpetrators of the terrorist act, harassment, work discrimination and loss of jobs, as well as the subsequent requirement for special registration of all Arab males above16 years of age, all contributed to extreme levels of isolation, fear, and frustration among Arab American males.

The therapy group was referred to as “Family Well-being” rather than domestic violence support group due to the widely held cultural values that prohibit or discourage women from seeking help from community resources and the consequent cultural taboos that disdain the act of sharing your private life with a group of strangers and shaming your people. The group size varied from 6-10 women who met once a week for 90 minutes. These women came from different socioeconomic backgrounds, age group, and educational level. However, the difference in cultural norms based on country of origin seemed to present a challenge particularly at the beginning of group life. For instance, women from Yemen had more conservative views of male roles within the family than women from Lebanon.

In the Middle East, domestic violence is treated as a family issue and not as a serious public health threat or a political-legal issue. Many patients entered therapy with the disquietly thought that they are unique in their wretchedness, that they alone have certain frightening or unacceptable problems, thoughts, impulses, and fantasies. To some extent, this is true for all of us, but many patients, because of their extensive isolation, have a hightened sense of uniqueness. Their interpersonal difficulties preclude the possibility of deep intimacy. According to Yalom, and particularly in the early stages, the disconfirmation of a patient’s feelings of uniqueness, known as the principle of universality, is a powerful source of relief. After hearing other members disclose concerns similar to their own, group members report feeling more in touch with the world and describe the process as “welcome to the human race” experience, otherwise also known as “we are in the same boat” or “misery loves company” phenomena.

Arab American women, feel alone, isolated and unique in their misery especially after 9/11. Following the tragic terrorist attacks, they locked themselves up in their homes, and some were terrorized within and outside their homes. However, six months later, many women ventured out and sought services at the Center on the condition that their spouses are left alone. They found the support group to be a safe space where they could talk freely about their concerns and the increasingly violent environment at home.

The installation and maintenance of hope is crucial in any psychotherapy. Not only is hope required to keep the patient in therapy so that other therapeutic factors may take effect, but faith in a treatment mode can in itself be therapeutically effective. Several research inquiries have demonstrated that pretherapy high expectation of help is significantly correlated with a positive therapy outcome.

Family well-being therapy group invariably contained women who were at different points along a coping-collapse continuum. Each woman thus has considerable contact with other-often individuals with similar problems-who have improved as a result of therapy. I was by no means above exploiting this factor by periodically calling attention to the improvements that members have made. Research substantiates that it is also vitally important that therapists believe in themselves and in the efficacy of their group. I often started the session by saying: “I sincerely believe that I am able to help every motivated woman who is willing to work in the group for at least six months”.

Group cohesion is achieved early on in the group process through drawing a life history using pictures, words, or symbols depicting all the significant events that have taken place in each woman’s life history. They are encouraged to share their stories with other members of the group thus validating the principle of universality and hope while solidifying their sense of safety and security within the group.

Catharsis is facilitated to assist women in venting feelings that have been repressed for many years and over many generations. For some women, this may have been the first instance where they have dared to share their misery with total strangers while receiving acceptance and support.

Sociocultural norms in the Middle East, including legal and religious practices, create obstacles to the investigation and reporting of domestic violent crimes there. Therefore, imparting of information is crucial to group members since most of them are unfamiliar with the laws of this country. Furthermore, information about the sociopolitical influences of Arab life in America may put this population at risk for domestic violence. Major factors include poverty, social isolation due to language barriers and low literacy levels as well as intergenerational transmission of violent behavior. Other aspects of Arab culture that may contribute are male authority, use of corporal punishment, and cultural values regarding family honor and shame.

In addition, discussion of safety plans is constantly introduced as well as speakers from the legal field and the religious institutions are invited to help women understand their options even if they are not ready to act on them. This seemed important since most of group participants were traditional women who upheld firm religious beliefs about the supremacy of men over women. Women’s socialization process has also contributed to the internalization of the cultural/religious beliefs of their homeland countries.

The corrective recapitulation of the primary family group is also explored during the group sessions. In the Middle East, wife abuse is a product of a patriarchal system that defines women as property of their spouses, allowing wife beating as an extension of that philosophy. The cycle of violence that spirals down generations normalizes women’s experiences in being the target of domestic violence. Women realize the importance of their role in breaking the abusive cycle and facilitating the acquisition of new belief systems and modes of behavior in their children. They become increasingly aware of traditional practices that sanction chauvinistic behaviors in male children and submissive ones in female children.

Gradually, the development of socializing techniques for the purpose of helping women change their behaviors and modify self-defeating ways of doing things are also explored and practiced.

Imitative behaviors that encourage women to get themselves out of traditional roles and adopting new roles that are more harmonious with the main cultural standards are also discussed. These behaviors are demonstrated to these women with the understanding that change is difficult and slow, but possible.

Interpersonal learning is also encouraged to help victims of domestic violence learn new ways of being and dealing with their lives in an abusive home. Women share their experiences and life stories and are coached to give and receive feedback from other group members without being judgmental or overly invested in the outcome of the process.

This group has been the first attempt made by a community center in New York to change intrapsychic dynamics that sustains violence against women within Arab American families. It empowers women to consider making changes in their own lives and prevents the continuous victimization of women within their families.

This entry was posted in Articles. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

    Watch and get to know Dr Nora

PGC can help with:

  • Anxiety Disorders
    • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
    • Panic Disorder
    • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
    • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
    • Social Phobia
    • Agoraphobia
    • Binge-eating Disorder
    • Insomnia
  • Adult ADHD
  • Time Management
  • Marital Discord
  • Bonding Evaluation
  • Adoption Evaluation