Center to offer group therapy for sexually abused men

From The Howard County Times ( 08/08/02)
Featuring Richard Gartner, Ph.D.

Center to offer group therapy for sexually abused men
by Jennifer Vick

In its 26 years of operation, a Columbia organization that assists the sexually abused has never held group counseling sessions for male victims – until now.

Counselors at the county’s Sexual Trauma Treatment Advocacy and Recovery Center say they are seeing more male victims seeking their services, thanks largely to the recent coverage in the national and local media of abuse allegations by men against Catholic priests.

Consequently, center officials have decided to form a group to assist those men. The group will meet every Monday from noon to 1:20 p.m. for about 10 weeks beginning Aug. 19.

Counselors at the STTAR Center – which assists men, women and children who have been sexually abused or assaulted – say they will screen and accept about eight participants for the group.

Over the last five years, the center has seen an increasing number of males seeking its services, said Catherine Busch, the center’s clinical director.

More men are seeking counseling in the wake of increased attention the media have paid to priests sexually abusing boys, Busch said. Other factors – including the willingness of male celebrities, such as actor Tom Arnold, to openly talking about the sexual abuse they endured, and men finding more information and services through the Internet – also have spurred the increase, she said.

“There’s been a change in the national atmosphere,” Busch said. “When that happens, it encourages other men to disclose and seek services.”

Therapists have made many advancements over the years in treating sexually abused males, said Walter de Milly, 48, who wrote about being molested by his father in his book, “In My Father’s Arms: A True Story of Incest.”

“[Therapists] are more aware of the problem and are more willing to take it seriously,” de Milly said.

His experience of seeking therapy followed a rocky road.

The first therapist he saw, in the early 1970s, dismissed his allegations of abuse.

“He said I was simply having fantasies about my father,” de Milly said.

His search to find a therapist who was able to understand his problem and help him to cope with it effects took two decades, the Key West, Fla., resident added.

Richard Gartner, a psychologist and president of the National Organization on Male Sexual Victimization in Washington, D.C., said male sexual abuse is far more prevalent than most people think.

He cites a 1996 University of Massachusetts at Boston study that found that one in six men have had direct unwanted sexual contact with an adult or older child before the age of 16. For women, the figure is one in three.

For men who have had such unwanted contact, 60 percent were abused by another man, 30 percent by a woman and 10 percent by people of both sexes, the study found.

Though men tend to be abused by other men, the STTAR Center’s Busch said society should not turn a blind eye to women committing sexual abuse. At the center, she has counseled boys who were abused by female babysitters and the mothers of friends, she said.

Many men who have experienced sexual abuse as a child or young adult don’t come forward for treatment until well into their adulthood, Gartner said.

Though sexual abuse is equally traumatizing for men and women, men often have to cope with different issues as a result of the abuse, he added. Many abused men struggle with understanding their own masculinity and sexuality, in addition to feeling shame and embarrassment.

“It often makes them feel they are not really men,” Gartner said.

Many abused men experience confusion about whether they are homosexual and question what about themselves made them attractive to another man, Gartner added.

Mary Ellen Merrick, a STTAR Center therapist, treated an abused man troubled by such confusion. A trusted school coach had abused the man when he was a boy of 14.

After the abuse occurred, the coach stopped the boy in a school hallway and told him that he was gay.

“He has sat on that for almost 30 years,” Merrick said of the victim, who is heterosexual.

Group therapy helps make many men feel relieved that they have shared their feelings with others who have endured abuse, Busch said.

In coping with memories of his father’s abuse, de Milly said he struggled for years with depression and thought he was going crazy – until he began participating in groups for incest survivors.

“You don’t feel so isolated,” he said. “It’s also easier to see things in other people than in yourself.”

For more information on the STTAR Center’s male victims group, call 410-290-6432.

E-mail Jennifer Vick at