Friday, April 16, 2021

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear the public health impact has extended far beyond that of the virus itself. Around the nation and across communities, lockdowns and social distancing have amplified family conflict. In some cases, this has left those within the home emotionally or physically unsafe, and more isolated than ever.

As New Jersey’s statewide domestic and sexual abuse program for Jewish families, Project S.A.R.A.H. has not only adapted its services to meet the unique needs of this pandemic period, but has also expanded them. In addition to offering free and low-cost teletherapy sessions for adults, children and families, Project S.A.R.A.H. re-introduced its Women’s Group last summer to show those in high-conflict relationships—current or past—that they are not alone.

The Women’s Group initially began as a single, eight-week Zoom series that was geared toward exploring the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships. Project S.A.R.A.H. clinicians presented and facilitated discussion around material illustrating patterns of power and control found in abusive relationships, various forms of domestic violence and reasons why many people remain in abusive marriages.

Almost immediately, the group proved itself to be a remarkably cohesive virtual space, where women—some married, some who had left abusive relationships—felt safe talking, listening and offering support about issues many were otherwise silent about. As members requested to continue beyond the eight weeks, Project S.A.R.A.H. recognized that the Women’s Group was filling a critical need and developed a Part II series. Focused on identifying and coping with emotions stemming from past or present domestic abuse, each meeting of this series features clinician-facilitated discussions around how to connect with, regulate and respond to the needs of these emotions.

The Women’s Group is now a fundamental part of Project S.A.R.A.H.’s core services. The Part I and Part II series run regularly, rotating between weekday, weeknight and Sunday evening slots to accommodate members’ busy schedules and time zones. Additionally, a Part III Women’s Group is set to begin this month. The theme is “Bringing your strongest self to current and future relationships.” Attendees, many who began with the first Zoom series last summer, will be invited to consider the many types of relationships in their lives—including friendship, professional, parenting and marital. They will explore ways to navigate boundaries, while responding to emotions that come up during times of conflict or disagreement.

Now, more than ever, Project S.A.R.A.H. is hard at work helping individuals, families, and therapeutic groups navigate and explore high-conflict and abusive relationships. To support this critical work, please join Project S.A.R.A.H.’s Virtual Breakfast, on May 2. For more information or to donate, please visit projectsarah.org or call 973-777-7638, x643.

Cara Harmon is a Project S.A.R.A.H. team member, presenter and clinician, and has worked extensively with those affected by domestic violence and other forms of trauma.