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.

From University to Cape Town: 10 Weeks Later

As I walked into the Rape Crisis office on my first day, I felt out of place, unqualified, and unsure of how I had come to be here, thousands of miles away from home. I had stumbled upon this internship through my university’s website and jumped at the chance for such an experience. I had few to no expectations as to how everything would actually work out. But as I met staff who welcomed me and introduced themselves, those anxious feelings started to dissipate.

Having finished my first year at university as a media studies major, I was hoping to see how the words in my textbook could be applied. Within my major, I focus on advocacy and change which explores how media can be most effectively utilized to create social development and growth. While I have spent ample time reading about topics such as the importance of appealing to a certain audience or the ethics of communication, I was curious to see how these topics would be implemented in a real setting.

At Rape Crisis, I have learned the specific and sometimes delicate nature of finding out what is needed to appeal to one’s audience. Ethical concerns are of utmost importance. At any nonprofit, but especially one such as Rape Crisis that deals with sensitive stories, the human aspect and respect for empathy are a priority. When planning and then helping out at the organisation’s annual Mandela Day event, I was astounded by the spirit and dedication of the community. The good intentions of the volunteers were evident in the time and thought that went into packing care packs for rape survivors to use after forensic examinations. While it can sometimes be tempting to be pessimistic regarding rape culture, events such as this one showed that progress is being made. During my time, I was continually impressed by the level of emotional intelligence at Rape Crisis.

In addition, I was interested to see how the presence of rape culture manifested in contrasting environments: my university and the Cape Town community. Affected by the distinct factors in each community, the issue of rape culture develops differently. However, from what I have learned, I look forward to helping to address the issue of sexual assault on my own campus. While I will be leaving the physical organization, I hope to continue to contribute while I am back in the States.

The experiences I have gained at Rape Crisis have further confirmed my passion for nonprofit work. I have been exposed to all parts of the job, from sitting in the storage room taking stock to being in meetings for the creation of a new campaign. My favorite project while at work was the development of the I ACT campaign. This campaign allowed me to utilize many different skills: creating effective messaging, taking portraits, and envisioning the aesthetics of the website. I look forward to the launch of this campaign and hope that our work will aid in fundraising for counsellors.

Ten weeks later as I prepare to head back to the States, I can’t imagine how I could have ever felt nervous around any of the people at Rape Crisis. Every morning, I look forward to being greeted by everyone in the office. They work with such honest passion that I hope to embody in my own studies and future career. Thank you to everyone who has made my time in Cape Town so memorable.

Rachel Yen

Rachel is currently a second year student studying sociology, media studies, and Spanish at the University of Colorado Boulder. She is interning with the communications team to gain skills in media and nonprofit work.

Help Us Build a Culture of Consent

I have a vision of a South Africa where women feel safe in their communities. But can you truly imagine it?

I can’t. At Rape Crisis we see the most extreme result of discrimination against women every day. We see a woman after a man has raped her. In the immediate aftermath, or some months later, or after years and years of isolating silence. A silence built on the stigma of being a rape survivor. On the fear of being blamed for wearing a short skirt, or for being out after dark, for being drunk, or for changing her mind in the middle of a sexual encounter. In South Africa these myths are strong enough and the stigma is high enough to stand in the way of this vision.

We believe that the best way to challenge these myths and build a new set of beliefs based on mutual respect for consent is to support communities so that their capacity to address the problem of rape is strengthened. We believe that doing this with teenagers while they are still at school means they are more likely to challenge their own ways of thinking and take that challenge to their peers. Teenagers love to challenge the adult norm.

Monique is a Rape Crisis trained peer educator at Athlone High School. She completed a course that allowed her to support other learners at her school who needed help if they had been raped or sexually assaulted and were too afraid to tell an adult. It also taught her different ways of challenging rape culture among her peers and teaching them new ways of thinking, a new attitude and a new norm. To celebrate Youth Day 16 June 2017 she wrote a blog for us.

“Being a peer educator is a responsibility that I need to fulfil with the utmost seriousness. I am proud to be a peer educator,” she said.

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Obstacle course at the Peer Educators’ camp in Simonstown December 2016. Photograph by Alexa Sedge.

The course kicks off with a well-known exercise called the River of Life. It is designed to help participants tell the story of their lives in order to get to know one another at a deeper level and, in sharing this experience as a group, to develop a bond as a team.

“Fear immediately settled in me. Not because I had to speak in front of 21 strangers but because I had to show others who I really was. I had to show others all the things which made my childhood not so pleasant: all the things that I had locked away and although I wanted to throw away the key, I couldn’t. So there I was, revealing what I had kept inside for years – it was scary. I hated the fact that I had to be vulnerable. However, as each of my peers went up, I could see that we all had a dark past and that sunshine was scarce. What I learnt from that activity was that we need to scratch open our old wounds in order for them to heal properly. I realised that in order for me to help others, I had to help myself first.”

Empowerment starts within. Each facilitator on this course is a trained Rape Crisis volunteer. They go through a similar journey of confronting their fears as they learn to carry the huge responsibility of taking a group of young people on a journey fraught with intense emotions. But if we think of how damaging it is when an entire community believes even just one myth about women, about gender non-conforming people or about rape then we can see how serious it really is to make the attempt to challenge that myth.

“That activity made me realise something else as well: that’s what rape survivors have to go through when telling complete strangers about their traumatic experience, trusting others with what they would perhaps have kept to themselves.”

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Photograph by Alexa Sedge

“Throughout this programme, session by session, I learnt to trust others and I learnt of the stigma related to those being raped and how they are judged. I also learnt many things about HIV and AIDS and the stigma related to those who are positive. I learnt of our rights, our responsibilities and the rights of survivors.”

If you would like to support the journey of a peer educator like Monique please donate here or share this post with someone you think might want to contribute.

“Being part of the Rape Crisis family has been really great for me. We laugh together, cry together, and share a lot of memories. I want to thank the facilitators for doing a super job. Keep inspiring others and moulding new leaders. Although my course is complete, my journey as a peer educator has just begun.”

Please help us promote a culture of safety in our schools or sign up to get updates about this and other projects at Rape Crisis. Because challenging just one myth helps to challenge the culture that gave birth to it; the same culture that gives rise to discrimination and violence against women.

Thank you so much for being part of the process of building a culture of consent.

 

Making Change as a Rape Crisis Peer Ed

Being a peer educator (peer ed) is so much more than just a label that was given to me because I completed a course. It’s a responsibility that I need to fulfill with the utmost seriousness. Many might feel that being a peer ed is a burden; I see it as a privilege.

I, Monique, am a Rape Crisis Peer Educator and I am proud hereof. When starting this program, I was unaware of the impact it would have on me. I must admit when entering this programme, I was anxious and scared to an extent. Being around a group of ‘strangers’ made me a bit uneasy.

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Obstacle course at the Peer Ed camp in Simonstown. Pic: Alexa Sedge.

I can remember when we were told to do our ‘River of Life’ activity – fear immediately settled in me. Not because I had to speak in front of 21 ‘strangers’ but because I had to show others who I really was. I had to show others all the things which made my childhood not so pleasant: all the things that I had locked away and although I wanted to throw away the key, I couldn’t. So there I was revealing what I had kept inside for years – it was scary. I had hated the fact that I had to be vulnerable. However, as each of my peers went up, I could see that we all had a dark past and that sunshine was scarce. What I learnt from that activity was that we need to scratch open our old wounds in order for them to heal properly. I realised that in order for me to help others, I had to help myself first. That activity made me realise something else as well: that’s what rape survivors have to go through when telling complete strangers about their traumatic experience, trusting others with what they would perhaps have kept to themselves.

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Athlone Peer Eds Pic: Alexa Sedge

Throughout this programme, I learnt something valuable from each session. I learnt to trust others which is something I do not often do. When we did role plays, I learnt of the stigma related to those being raped and how they are judged. I also learnt many things about HIV and AIDS and the stigma related to those who are positive. I learnt of our rights, responsibilities, and the rights of survivors. We were given many worksheets throughout, which we had to read, but personally the worksheets on how to help and assist survivors were the most important. There was a lot of information that was given to us, from contraceptives to our menstrual cycle, but the most important thing I learnt was that rape is a serious offence. I therefore want to be part of the change because many cases go unreported.

Being part of the Rape Crisis family has been really great for me. We laugh together, cry together, and share a lot of memories. I want to thank the facilitators for doing a super job. Keep inspiring others and molding new leaders. Although my course is complete, my journey as a peer ed has just begun.

Monique Booysen 

Monique is one of our Athlone high school Peer Educators. She is an active change-maker, challenging myths and stereotypes and changing attitudes around rape. 

 

Our Peer Education programme is made possible through the generous support of Oxfam Germany and BMZ.