Common Threads Project: A psychotherapeutic intervention for the long-term psychological consequences of sexual violence, war, and displacement

with Catherine Butterly & Cynthia Uccello
Common Threads Project

Focus Summary

The presentation was a demonstration of a Common Threads therapeutic group intervention- integrating Somatic/Body work with Textile Art in the training of Mental Health professionals working with Gender Based Sexual Violence following War and displacement in Ecuador, Nepal, Bosnia and the DRC. We showed a number of the Story Cloths and discussed the various stages of our intervention and the process of working through the trauma.

Key Insights

Common Threads’ model is rooted in evidence from Brain Science and socio-cultural understanding of trauma, revives an ancient practice found in many different contexts; women come together to sew their stories onto cloth, to disclose the unspeakable atrocities they have experienced and support one another.

Common Threads integrates this tradition with best practices from trauma-informed therapy, mind-body work, sensorimotor work, breath work and psycho-education.

Severe traumatic experiences reside in the parts of the brain often inaccessible to language and that what is ‘unspeakable’ can be safely accessed in other ways- such as working with the Body and through Art Therapy.

The women’s sewing circle provides mutual support and safety, and enables the multi-dimensional work of trauma recovery.

Key take-outs from the ISHHR 2017 Conference (industry feedback, networking, peer presentations):

There were a number of interesting questions about storage of the materials after the intervention and the working through process of the trauma. Questions were asked about the possibility of using this intervention with children who are traumatised.

We were approached by a number of colleagues for possible collaboration/training with them in the future.

Future goals — what’s next?

We are continuing with our Common Threads colleagues, including Founder and Executive Director Rachel Cohen and art therapy consultant, Lisa Raye Garlock, to continue our work on our projects in Nepal, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the DRC and to fundraise and plan for future ones.

Our hope is to continue to work therapeutically with the chronic and complex trauma of women survivors and also continue to highlight this heinous crime of war rape.

How can local / national / international media better assist in bringing the vital issues discussed at ISHHR 2017 to light, and further encourage real, positive change and understanding?

Rape committed during war is often intended to terrorize the population, break up families, destroy communities, and, in some instances, change the ethnic make-up of the next generation. Long after the conflict has ended, the impacts of sexual violence persists and meeting needs of the survivors requires resources that most post conflict countries do not have.

Decades after the guns fall silence, many survivors are still paying the psychological costs of their traumatic experiences.

Journalists could play a critical role in highlighting this issue and emphasising the long-term consequences of trauma.