The Pandora's Aquarium chat room hosted a chat for male survivors with Mike Lew on June 13, 2010. As a psychotherapist and group therapy leader, Mike has become a leading expert on recovery from child sexual abuse, focusing on issues of male survivors, and is the co-director of The Next Step Counseling and Training Center. He is the author of Victims No Longer: The Classic Guide for Men Recovering from Sexual Child Abuse and Leaping Upon the Mountains: Men Proclaiming Victory over Sexual Child Abuse.
jlandrith: Before we start, Steve and I would like to thank Mr. Lew for taking the time to speak with us here at Pandy’s. We appreciate it!
Mike Lew: Hi everyone - please understand that I am new to this and also a slow typist. Please bear with me. And call me Mike - Mr. Lew is far too formal.
jlandrith: I read in your bio that you are both a cultural anthropologist and psychotherapist. Given that you were an anthropologist first, what prompted the interest in psychology?
Mike Lew: Well, it wasn't too big a leap, as my concentration was psychological anthropology - also called culture and personality.
jlandrith: So the fields of study are closely linked?
Mike Lew: Yes, and over time I became more and more interested in individuals and how they are influenced by their cultural environments.
jlandrith: What prompted your focus on trauma and male survivors, a group often overlooked or outright ignored in recovery literature?
Mike Lew: I like to say that I had a double advantage: First was the anthropological training that concentrates on listening to people's experiences and perspectives and tries not to impose pre-judgment. The second was that I had the advantage of being badly trained as a counselor/therapist, so I didn't know the things that everyone else seemed to know - for example I didn't know that boys aren't sexually abused or that there are no women abusers. So when my clients (male and female) talked about sexual abuse...I believed them!
jlandrith: I like the emphasis on what you didn't know. It is always fascinating what a person can accomplish when they don't know something that others take for granted.
Mike Lew: Yes, indeed. The next thing I did (this, by the way, is over 25 years ago) is what anyone does - I looked for information and resources - and there was nothing that was helpful. All the information was about men as abusers and women as victims. Very frustrating.
jlandrith: Tell us a little about the process that lead you to write the groundbreaking book Victims No Longer?
Mike Lew: Well, like much of my life, I stumbled into it without conscious planning. I kept complaining about the lack of resources for male survivors - even in the Boston area where there are resources and groups for everything. When I finally tired of complaining, I started the first therapy groups for male survivors in the Boston area. I knew nothing, but fortunately male survivors are very generous and taught me what I needed to know. I also spoke to anyone who would listen and finally convinced Oprah's people to do the nation's first show on male sexual victimization - me and three very courageous male survivors. Remember, this was back in 1987, when it just wasn't talked about. When I returned to Boston there was a message on my answering machine from an editor/publisher in NYC wanting me to write a book. I declined, but he talked me into it. Nine months later, Victims No Longer was born and my life turned upside-down and inside-out. What a journey!
jlandrith: As you speak regularly to men and women all over the world, have you noticed a common thread among male survivors and their secondaries with regard to child sexual abuse?
Mike Lew: Absolutely. When people have been hurt in similar ways, there is always overlap of the effects. Of course, it is also true that no two survivors have exactly the same experience and needs in their recovery - but the similarities are many. I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about specific needs of men in recovery - things that have been staring me in the face for a long time, but I was slow to notice.
jlandrith: Would you care to elaborate on those needs Mike?
Mike Lew: Thought you'd never ask. In early days I wasted time insisting that there were no essential differences in recovery for men and women. Yeah, I know, but I'm not always the brightest bulb in the pack. Yes, men and women are different and are socialized differently. I think that traditional therapy and counseling have been female oriented and some of men's strengths have been pathologized. I think there are many male strengths that are of great use in recovery.
First, I am more and more convinced that isolation is the enemy of recovery. Abuse takes place in isolation; recovery in the company of others. But it is tricky, because isolation can feel a lot like safety. Second, I don't think men join teams, etc. to remain isolated. I also think that effective male resources are loud, profane, raucous, irreverent, and juicy. These things are not always valued by traditional therapeutic modalities.
I have witnessed (with awe) the ways in which male survivors support each other in recovery - powerful commitment that transcends all the superficial differences that we are told should keep us separate. Men quickly move past distinctions of race, religion, class, education, career, nationality, sexual orientation, age, etc. to focus on their essential brotherhood and the needs of healing for themselves and their brothers.
Steve: With respect to isolation, Personally Alone is safe. How would you combat this?
Mike Lew: Yes, Steve, alone can feel safe, but it is also lonely. I never ask people to trust me (you know what a stupid statement that would be). Reaching out to others is a tentative process. It is always a risk and it is always a setback if someone doesn't justify your trust - or just doesn't get it. But I suggest that you take your time, move slowly, trust your instincts about people, but the power of connection is enormous. Recovery is real, it matters (you matter) and happens in the company of others.
Member question: What "additional" advice would you give to a survivor of mother-son abuse?
Mike Lew: I think although I don't believe in ranking abuse - all abuse hurts and we are not competing for room at the bottom - there is a specific injury from mother-son abuse because mothers are cultural icons. A group of male survivors who have attended my weekend workshops in Australia have come up with dividing families into "The Biologicals" and "The Functionals." A person can belong to both groups, but membership in the first doesn't automatically get them into the second - and the functionals can be chosen family.
Member question: How important is confrontation to recovery?
Mike Lew: I have a big chapter on confrontation in VNL. I think that confrontation is an important aspect of recovery for many survivors at some point in their healing. But there are many forms, not necessarily direct confrontation. What has to be confronted is the abuse and any self-blame. For the rest, it is an individual decision.
Member question: I feel that I can learn a lot through comparison and contrasting. There is mother/son (which is new for me), and where I struggle is with is all the confusion surrounding co-existence of abuse by uncle and incest with brother. Seems like it goes kinda silent with co-existent resources/relevant info... any thoughts?
Mike Lew: This is exactly why I keep insisting that it is essential to challenge and overcome isolation. There is tremendous power in shared experience and mutual support. I can't tell you how many male survivors have told me that they feel different, alien, less than. Being with other brave, strong, creative, powerful men contradicts this misinformation. No matter what the experience and feeling that is shared in a group of survivors, there are others who understand and have felt similarly. NO MATTER WHAT IT IS! That is why workshops, groups, and forums like this are so important.
Mike Lew: I think I'm going to have to go soon, but I'd be happy to return at another time. I hope this is helpful. There are also links to many resources on my website: www.nextstepcounseling.org
and you are welcome to email me. There is a direct link on the site. Thanks for your encouragement and commitment.
jlandrith: Mike, a member wanted to know how many male survivors fail to report their abuse annually? What do you think the true statistics are?
Mike Lew: I have no idea of statistics - and don't think we will ever have accurate numbers. I just know that the numbers are enormous for reasons that you well know. But also more and more men are speaking up and disclosing all the time. Things are changing.
Member question: I feel the best way for me in this recovery process is to speak up publicly about my abuse. Do you have any thoughts or ideas on whom best to talk to or contact? I am also starting an ASCA group in August. I want to do more.
Mike Lew: By all means speak up and give back - but not at the expense of your own recovery work. Get yourself in the best possible shape first, and the rest will follow.
Member question: Is your book available to purchase in the UK?
Mike Lew: The UK edition is out of print, but the American version - the improved, expanded second edition is available from Amazon.
Thanks again. Take care of your precious selves. Love and respect, Mike
jlandrith: Thank you so much Mike. It means more than you can know to have you here and sharing our space.
Steve: Thanks a lot for doing this, we really appreciate it.
Mike Lew: My pleasure, guys. Now I'm off to have my dinner. Cheers.