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Marymount Students Introduced to Groundbreaking Therapeutic Model


Sanctuary of Healing

A psychiatrist shows patients the road to recovery by treating traumatic pasts.

Noting that one out of four people who experience a traumatic event will develop a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Sandra Bloom, M.D., a social psychiatrist, has developed a therapeutic model that she says will force the therapeutic community to reexamine the tenets of its profession.

“You need to change the basic beliefs of therapy to incorporate an understanding of trauma and its impact on people,” said Bloom, the author of Creating Sanctuary: Toward the Evolution of Sane Societies (Routledge, 1997). “Instead of always asking ‘What’s wrong with you?’ we should be asking, ‘What happened to you?’”

Bloom introduced her treatment model, called Sanctuary, to graduate students and other social-service practitioners during an Oct. 22 symposium at Marymount College of Fordham University.

Misdiagnosis of mental-health problems is all too common, according to Bloom, who is CEO of Community Works, a Philadelphia-based company focused on reducing the potential for conflict and violence in treatment settings. For instance, a person who suffered sexual abuse as a child may be treated for an illness such as schizophrenia later in life by a mental-health professional who knows nothing of the earlier abuse.

Sanctuary helps to address this issue by focusing on past trauma and providing a safe and moral environment where the staff and patients can work together to develop skills for restructuring thought processes, communication and behavior to facilitate movement through the stages of recovery. According to Bloom, the therapist takes on the persona of a mentor or teacher, as physical and psychological barriers are removed from the therapist-patient relationship.

“She is a compassionate innovator, a recognized leader in the trauma field, who has developed a model based on research that can free people from the devastation wrought on the body and mind from traumatic experiences,” said Anita Lightburn, an associate professor in the Graduate School for Social Service. “Her work is an inspiration to workers in the field and to the students who can bring about the transformation of mental health services and help us all work toward a nonviolent society.”

Bloom’s lecture was hosted by the Graduate School of Social Service’s Children FIRST Scholars’ Program and co-sponsored by Fordham’s Children and Families Institute for Research, Support and Training; the Child Care Council of Westchester, Inc.; and the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health.

— Michael Larkin

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