The Journey of a Counsellor

On paper, it’s relatively easy to counsel. Rape Crisis and other counselling courses teach that the main components of effective counselling include active listening, observational skills, body language, counsellor self-awareness and empathy. All of these skills allow for the opening up of a field of healing – a space where the client is the central focus and as a counsellor, you become a facilitator of healing in this safe space.

The difficult part of counselling comes in the form of having to manage your responses to the pain people offer you to hold for them. The number one question I am asked is ‘that must be so heavy. How do you deal with that?’ well, Rape Crisis had us trudge through our own hurts, our histories, our responses and our triggers, to essentially build a protective barrier. This boundary acts and looks like a stronger version of ourselves so that we are solid when the bricks of another’s identity try to intercept our foundational truth. Those bricks are heavy, and they tend to fly in from nowhere, unannounced.  

It is only when faced with a survivor, who has their own histories and hurts and foundational truth, that we realise there is universal pain. Regardless of their background, gender, race or sexual orientation, something in their honesty or their world-views will trigger a feeling in you. And that is because of the magic of empathy- the ability to feel someone else’s reality so deeply, that it appears to be your own. There have been moments with a client when they say ‘It made me feel so gobbledegook- like a spider with a tail’ and all of a sudden, you know what a gobbledegook is, you know what that tail feels like, you can see where that feeling sat in their body and suddenly it’s sitting there in yours. It’s pure magic. Pure, terrifying, electric magic and it can hurt you if you do not know yourself enough to facilitate this person without having them change you fundamentally. You must have deeply planted roots, support and self-care!  

Rape Crisis taught us the value of being able to hold ourselves. We were told early on, that when things feel too chaotic in your own life, look after yourself first. There is no way that you can effectively hold the space for another person when it’s cluttered with your own pain. This is where self-care comes in- the ability to make time for yourself and your own needs, the ability to check in with yourself regularly and ask yourself what you need right now to make yourself feel safe, loved and happy.

Rape Crisis as an institution has a mandate of empowerment, and that is where the difference lies between it and other organisations. Every aspect of the counselling at Rape Crisis is a response to a survivor having had their power stolen from them by a perpetrator. As humans, we instinctively wish to fix what’s broken- but telling people how to heal after being raped, or telling survivors what their pain should look like, is the most disempowering thing you can do. There is no ‘how to’ guide on finding your strength, or telling your family what has happened to you, or having to face your rapist in court.

The most profound thing Rape Crisis taught me is that everything the client feels is legitimate and normal and important. Everything. The path to healing and empowerment will therefore look different to everyone, and will happen in its own time. As counsellors we do not fix, because a survivor is not broken. They are some of the strongest people I will ever meet, simply because they walked through the doors and asked for their power to be echoed back through the safety and support of others.

My journey as a counsellor has only just begun, but I know now that counselling someone is more than just learning how to listen, or learning to be comfortable with silence, or learning how not to give advice. It is a humbling responsibility and turns you towards yourself in such a beautiful and frightening way, that really, the survivor heals the counsellor as much as we may offer them the space to heal themselves.

Act now! Help us train more counsellors like Robyn by making a donation towards our counselling service here. For 24-hour counselling support, call our crisis line on (021) 447 – 9762.

 

Robyn Raymond 

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Robyn moved to Cape Town from Johannesburg to study psychology in 2011. Having completed her Honours degree and a number of counselling courses through various NGO’s, she is now a counsellor at Rape Crisis’ Athlone office. She is also currently volunteering at an early intervention centre for children with autism. She hopes to pursue a career in the advocacy for mental health in South Africa, with a specific focus on access to mental healthcare structures for Womxn and Queer-identifying individuals.

After the Worst has Happened

It is the end of my Honours year. I am at a party to celebrate. I am shivering, despite the warm evening as I stand with a group of my classmates on the patio. We are anxiously waiting to hear if the two girls who left the party to go for a walk and did not return, have been found. Someone comes running towards us out of the darkness. He takes a breath, “the worst has happened”, a pause… “they have been raped”.

I have thought of those words many times in the last five years. I have been recalled to them again in the past few weeks as another spate of highly publicised rapes (and murders) infiltrate my consciousness:

RAPE IS THE WORST THING THAT CAN HAPPEN TO A WOMXN

I hear this message echoed in the words of Judge Kgomo as he hands down sentencing to serial rapist Christian Cornelius Julies in the North West. “It is unquestionable that if he was not stopped in his tracks, belatedly though, the devastation of girls and women’s lives would have continued”.

I hear it in the numerous posts on Facebook that recur on my news feed which proclaim that “my biggest fear is being raped”.

I am torn as I write this because it was my biggest fear -so much so that at the moment that I was being dragged into the bushes I thought to myself “oh god this – the worst thing – is finally happening to me”.  But what does it mean for me now? What can I do now that the worst has happened to me?

According to this narrative my life has been devastated, I have been violated in the most extreme way imaginable, I am worse than dead. I have struggled under the weight of this for 18 months now. I have tried to reconstitute myself amidst the constant echo that this is not actually possible – that I will never be whole and unbroken ever again.

I am not denying that being raped is terrifying and terrible. How could I deny this? It was terrifying and terrible – so terrifying and terrible that I left my body for a while and just hovered above myself, trying not to look down on what was happening.

BUT I am concerned about how the dominant narratives about sexual violence, including the one that being raped is the worst thing, impact on the ability to move beyond the terrifying and terribleness of rape.  How is it possible to heal when disclosing an experience of trauma is met with “Oh my goodness! That is my worst fear!”? How are those who have been violated supposed to heal when they are constantly reminded that they have been dehumanised in the most severe way?

I am not suggesting that we should not continue to call out the horror that is sexual violence. All instances of sexual violence are unacceptable and need to be plainly rendered as such.

But I am asking that we think more carefully about how we do this so that we do not reinscribe pain and horror on the bodies, psyches and souls of those around us.

Rebecca Helman 

Rebecca Helman is a PhD candidate at the University of South Africa (UNISA). Her PhD, entitled “post-rape subjectivities”, examines the ways in which rape survivors are able to (re)constitute their subjectivities amidst the discursive and material politics of sexual violence in the South African context. Rebecca is also a volunteer counsellor at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust’s Observatory office. 

 

 

A mother’s eight arduous years of searching finally over

By Wengi Africa

As a counsellor at Rape Crisis we face many challenges but always we learn from our clients in the process.  Working with refugee clients is different, it is hard, makes us feel helpless and that we can never do enough. That sitting there and thinking about the different resources that are available are never going to be enough.  The story I would like to tell you about is one that has shown me that I should never give up, that small things can make a difference that change can happen and perhaps not in the way that we think it could.

*Ndege is 38 years old and came from the Congo to South Africa.  I started counselling Ndege who was experiencing depression and symptoms of trauma.  What struck me though was the story of why she was in South Africa.  As a refugee, fleeing from her home, surviving multiple rapes, she came to South Africa because she had this idea that her children had travelled here.  Ndege walked through different countries searching for her children; she went through Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia searching for them in each country to no avail.  Her feet became bloodied and toenails torn but she carried on.  Each time she walked past a child, she would look at them to see whether it was her own child and then wonder about her children.  She had a very clear picture in her mind of each of her 13 children, what they looked like, how they sounded.  She held the picture of each of her children in her mind.  She always had the hope that she would find them.

She told me the story of how she was parted from her children during the war.  One of her 13 children was 8 months old at the time and still being breastfed.  I felt completely sad and concerned because of what it evokes in me as a mother and the thought of what it would be like for me to be parted from my children.  She told me that she didn’t care that her 8 month old would now be grown up; she would still put him on her back and carry him around.  It felt important to try and mobilise our resources in order to see whether she could be reunited with her children.  I contacted Petronille Mukarugwiza from the Tracing Department at the International Red Cross and set up an appointment for Ndege to see her.  Before meeting with Petronille, Ndege was relating the story of her missing children to a neighbour who then said that she had heard that Ndege’s children might be on the Uganda and DRC border.

Her neighbour called someone who lived in the area who was then able to confirm the location of her children.  Ndege was given the number for her eldest daughter.  Imagine Ndege’s joy at being able to speak to her daughter whom she had prayed was still alive and well after 8 years of being parted!  The International Organization on Migration (IOM) interviewed Ndege and agreed to help Ndege reunite with her children in the DRC.  It was a coincidence that I was in the office and had just had a supervision meeting when the crisis line received a call for me.  I answered and it was Ndege calling from the DRC to say how happy she was, she sounded very excited – I wish everyone could hear the joy that I heard.  She was so joyous I could hardly hear all that she was trying to tell me on the phone.  Her son recognised her, the children were fine and they were all very happy to be together again.

Ndege’s story has given me hope, courage and a sense of motivation.  Her story evokes joy within me and I have a renewed appreciation of myself and what I do.  What I take from Ndege is that we should never give up, there are always small things that can change lives.  A small conversation with a neighbour lead to a very profound change in one woman’s life and those of her children.  The importance of communication and listening to others… taking that time.

Thank you to Zoe Rohde and her team at the IOM.  The logistics were not easy to arrange but Ndege says that she was treated “like a queen” returning home after a long absence.  IOM staff accompanied Ndege at each point on her journey home.

*The survivor’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

Become a Rape Crisis Counselling Volunteer

Rape Crisis Athlone is calling on individuals to enroll for their Counselling training in order to support survivors of rape, starting March 2012.

Kathleen Dey, Director of Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, said: “Counselling is the core service we offer to rape survivors. Most victims only seek help three months after the attack which is when they need someone to understand and support them. It helps if this person comes from within their own community. Counselling is vital in helping survivors to bridge the gap between the trauma they have suffered and interacting with our Criminal Justice System.”

Rifqah Abrahams, a volunteer counselor said: “As woman, this Counselling course has empowered me to assist and guide other woman in the community, through the trauma of rape, by showing them that there is hope after rape. Healing is possible, and the feeling that one gets as a counsellor, after witnessing your clients remarkable progress is a great feeling one cannot describe.”

“Through our training we aim to increase the number of victims reporting rape and to decrease the number of rape incidents,” says Dey.

Once candidates have completed the course they will do an internship with on-the-job training & supervision after which they can become volunteers for Rape Crisis.

The three-month training will start in March 2012 and applications for the training course close on 3 February 2012 . The Counselling course costs R500.

To apply for the Counselling course contact Rifqah Abrahams or Barbara Williams on 021 684 1183/021 633 9229 . Application forms are also available at the Rape Crisis Centre in Gatesville at the Grassroots Centre (Opposite Elite in Klipfontein Road).

or email: rifqah@rapecrisis.org.za / barbara@rapecrisis.org.za