A group of students who served on Boston’s Student Advisory Council say they were subjected to a “cult-like” series of counseling sessions in a district-sponsored program that required them to cry, scream, and share deeply traumatic and personal stories in a group setting.
The Boston Globe reports that for the past fifteen years, the Boston Public School system has hired Jenny Sazama as an outside contractor to run the Advisory Council, which helps advise the superintendent on education policy. Despite having no credentials in mental health, during her tenure Sazama strongly encouraged students to participate in counseling sessions known as “Re-Evaluation Counseling” or “RC,” which focuses on dredging up traumatic memories and sharing them with a counselor or group, with an emphasis on crying, screaming, and shaking.
In March, twelve of the 49 members of the Boston Student Advisory Council resigned, citing the counseling sessions and Sazama’s behavior. In interviews with over a dozen current and former student advisory staffers and council members, the Boston Globe reports that students say the sessions, some of which were attended by other adults the students had no connection to, were “inappropriate and disturbing.” One former student Keondre McClay, a Black teenager, said he was almost forced to “purge” racial trauma by wrestling with white adults, even when he loudly refused. Another former staffer describes a session in which Sazama tried to get a girl to share her experience of sexual assault with the group, despite being reluctant. Sazama also discouraged students from seeking out legitimate mental health treatment and medication, believing that “‘disorders’ are made-up names that describe distresses.”
For leaders of the counsel attending the intense sessions was sometimes mandatory, and even when they were advertised as voluntary students felt they had to go, especially when their full paychecks for their youth advocacy work were predicated on how many hours they worked. Sazama has defended the sessions, and has denied that students were paid or forced to attend them. The school district has also tried to walk back the definition of the counseling sessions as Re-Evaluation Counseling, saying they were loosely based on the method. But parents had to sign permission slips for counseling “based in the theory and practice of Re-Evaluation Counseling.”
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