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Overcoming the trauma of abuse can be a lifelong struggle for some.

“Studies have shown that childhood abuse unleashes a chain of negative emotions that can impact an individual’s future, producing feelings of shame, isolation, self-loathing and educational underachievement,” said Rosemary C. Reilly, an associate professor in Department of Applied Human Sciences at Canada’s Concordia University.

But a study published by Reilly and her fellow researchers found that pairing female students who experienced childhood or domestic abuse with a mentor fared much better.

The study was based on previous research from community-based educator and researcher Jenny Horsman. Horsman found that “as many as half the women studying in educational programs in Canada are trying to learn while simultaneously dealing with the consequences of violence.”

The researchers interviewed 10 female students who had experienced intense childhood violence in their lives, and all but one had taken up a mentor at some point in their lives. They found that “the timing of women’s mentoring was contingent on the impact the abuse had on their sense of identity.” They also found that “four themes of mentorship” came out of the interviews: fantasy mentors, mentors as mirrors, mentors as nurturers and supporters, and mentors as embodiments of a particular profession.

“Although the researchers caution that these themes should be viewed as atypical, they enrich the understanding of mentoring for women marginalized by violence and demonstrate the malleable nature of mentorship. Mentoring in its various guises clearly played a significant role in these women’s healing processes.”

The authors believe that these studies should encourage universities to consider establishing a formalized mentoring program for survivors of trauma.

“For survivors of childhood abuse, relationship and connection are what really matters and what successful mentorship is all about,” Reilly said.

Source: Concordia University

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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