When I first heard that Rape Crisis was recruiting volunteer counsellors, I initially had a real feeling that this was something I needed to do, followed by overwhelming self doubt; would I actually cope with having to hear terrifying stories about rape again and again? Gulp!
I decided to take the plunge because I have always felt strongly against the abuse of women, children and men and I really wanted to play a part in people’s recovery after a trauma as destructive as rape. For all of us, the idea of being raped strikes fear into our very hearts and I wanted to know how someone can recover and find themselves again after experiencing such trauma. I also realised that although I had studied psychology, I had actually never counselled anyone before. This was troubling me and it was something I wanted to work on. The training course was described as “intensive” and so I expected that the course would equip me with the necessary skills and not just let me loose on clients.
On the first day of the course I was pleasantly surprised to find a really mixed bag of participants. Everyone was so different and they came from every walk of life imaginable and yet somehow we had all come together at Rape crisis with the same passion for becoming a volunteer counsellor. It felt promising being part of a group of such strong and nurturing women.
The course was nothing like I had expected. I had thought we would have many lectures and that I would find myself becoming bored and even doodling in my notebook. It was the complete opposite and was very engaging with many experiential exercises and opportunities to participate. I would go home with my head buzzing with all our discussions and I couldn’t stop thinking about the things we were learning and talking about. Sometimes my friends felt as if they were on the course too because I was constantly talking about the issues surrounding rape in South Africa and debating controversial topics with them.
The personal growth section in particular really got me thinking about myself and my world and it really became clear to me that knowing oneself is an important part of being able to counsel someone. This is really where I began my lifelong journey of self reflection and discovery that is so important when doing this work and for life in general.
The information we received on everything from the political, legal, medical and of course the psychological aspects of rape really helped me grasp just how much a rape survivor has to go though on her road to recovery. I began to realise just how much courage a survivor has, whether she decides to come forward or not.
The counselling skills section was by far the most nerve-racking for me, although we would sometimes find ourselves laughing at our mishaps as we role played mock counselling sessions. After some disastrous role play situations I even had second thoughts about my own counselling skills but the encouragement of the experienced facilitators reminded us to be gentle with ourselves and not to expect ‘to build Rome in a day’’.
It has been seven years since that training course and I feel I am still ’building Rome’ and learning every day from the unique experiences of the survivors I see. I never expected I would be at Rape Crisis all these years later. The friendships I have forged with this dynamic bunch of women will be everlasting and I am not surprised to still be lingering here like a well rooted pot plant. Yes, the work is difficult and heavy, and you do need to look after yourself a lot too but you are not alone and you have strong support and guidance from your fellow volunteers and the Rape Crisis staff members. You also get to witness the magical moments when the dark cloud above a rape survivor’s head lifts and she is walking in the sun again. The course is so much more than you could ever expect and it opens the door to a life long journey of self discovery. I encourage you to take the plunge!
Angela Martinaglia completed the Rape Crisis training course in 2006 and has been a volunteer counsellor ever since. This year she joins the course facilitation team.
If you are interested in doing the next course on offer please contact Shiralee McDonald, the course coordinator, on firstname.lastname@example.org or (021) 447-1467 to find out more or to request an application pack. The course begins 24 August 2013 and the closing date for applications is 18 July 2013. Places are limited.