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Counseling professor develops group treatment program for victims of bullying

Fear and shame are often the results of psychological trauma created by bullying and interpersonal violence, and they touch every race, religion, and culture. So how can counselors help their clients truly heal?

This is a question that Dr. Lisa Sosin, a professor in Liberty University’s Department of Counselor Education and Family Studies, sought to answer as she developed an intervention manual for counselors to utilize in diverse groups of people who have suffered from this trauma.

Psychological trauma is a response to an event that a person finds highly stressful, and this emotional stress can come in many forms, even the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The consequences of a child, adolescent, or adult being bullied or experiencing other forms of relational trauma can include intense anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, suicidal ideations or attempts, addictions, and poor academic performance, among others.

“Interpersonal violence often leaves people traumatized; they are physically, mentally, socially, and/or spiritually terrorized,” Sosin said. “Characteristically, such persons are left with a pervasive feeling of shame about aspects of their multi-facetted identity and an inability to relax and connect with others in authentic ways. In my work with people of every age, ethnicity, and culture, I have seen interpersonal violence leave people with a ‘frozen’ sense of self that radically hinders them from being and becoming who they fully are.”

“Moreover, in the wake of such experiences, a multitude of maladaptive coping behaviors and addictions often arise as a result of trying to manage these intolerable feelings,” she added.

Sosin’s work on the manual began when she counseled an adolescent girl who had been bullied. Sosin used her observations to develop the Creative Exposure Intervention, a treatment method that involves slowly unearthing the levels of emotional harm done to the individual as a result of bullying, all through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness techniques, and art therapy techniques like drawing.

“I do a lot of creative and expressive arts when I work with people who are traumatized because they can’t put into words the complexity of what they’ve experienced,” Sosin explained. “Exposure is a trauma treatment wherein you carefully expose people to trauma memories so that they can process them carefully and thoroughly. I provided a creative form of exposure (using art) with an adolescent who had been bulled and her family, and it was so moving and effective that I wrote an article about it with a colleague.”

The article was published in “The Journal of Creativity and Mental Health” in 2016, in which it outlined how Creative Exposure Intervention can operate in a clinical setting with a child, adolescent, or adult.

From there, Sosin saw an opportunity to broaden the intervention into a group-oriented program that she now calls the Creative Arts Personal Growth Group (CAPG). As the director of Liberty’s Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision program, Sosin has collaborated with her doctoral students to expand the research base for this intervention since 2017. She also worked with some of her students to develop the group work manual. They have presented their research findings at several national and international conferences. Moreover, Sosin and a team of her students published the intervention and their research findings in “The Journal for Specialists in Group Work.” Likewise, an abstract has been approved by “The Journal of Psychology and Theology” for an article that describes how CAPG supports multiculturalism, social justice, and internal and interpersonal peace, with the potential of being published this summer.

“Given the current political unrest and the international crisis of interpersonal violence, I want to bring together diverse persons to connect with one another so they can learn skills to regulate trauma symptoms and find peace and healing internally and interpersonally,” Sosin said. “It has been truly sacred to bring people together who have been marginalized and traumatized as they heal by hearing each other’s trauma stories, holding the pain together, and overcoming their symptoms through mutual acceptance and encouragement.”

Sosin’s interest in counseling came at the age of 16 when she was working at a summer camp near her hometown of Smithtown, N.Y., and met a young boy who had a troubled life. She wanted to learn how to help him and started considering a career in counseling.

Sosin began her practice in Michigan in 1985 and is still practicing today. In 2002, Sosin felt God call her to pursue her Ph.D. at Liberty.

“I knew that I needed a program with a biblical worldview, and I just so happened to open up a magazine that was advertising for the (counseling) program that I now direct,” she said. “The residential aspect of it was multiple one-week intensives, so I could stay in Michigan with my family and come to campus for the courses for one week and then do the rest online, so it was perfect.”

While completing her dissertation, her dissertation chair asked Sosin to move to Lynchburg to become a full-time professor. Sosin graduated in 2008 and taught her first class that year.

Sosin has directed the doctoral program for over 10 years. She said she enjoys interacting with students who have an appetite for helping others.

“Our doctoral students are so devoted to understanding how to better serve people who are wounded in this world,” she said. “When I teach and interact with them in multiples settings, I sense their delight and hunger for learning and helping others as well as their love for Jesus Christ.”

Speaking with a Christian voice in the counseling field is a way of bringing longstanding truth to others, Sosin explained.

“Psychology is still a young field and a science that is currently confirming what God’s Word has taught us for thousands of years now,” she said. “People need grace and truth to heal, and, as believers in Christ, our students offer God’s grace and truth, at times explicitly and other times implicitly. Our program equips our students to serve people from diverse cultures ethically and effectively. From a biblical perspective, serving them well corroborates with God’s agenda of doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God (as it says in) Micah 6:8.”