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.

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Stop the Bus! – Day 6 (Trip 2) – Time to say goodbye

Stanford - the final day of the workshop

Stanford - the last day of the workshop

This morning we headed to Stanford where we continued with the workshop. The topic today was care for the caregiver.  We also had a networking meeting in Hermanus where the needs, problems and resources within the Hermanus, Gansbaai, Pearly Beach and Stanford communities were identified and to build better capacity and finding ways of broadening the network of support for rape survivors. Moreover, we visited the hospital, the police station and the Regional Court in Hermanus in connection with the Shukumisa campaign to see whether the rape survivors’ rights and services within the system are followed.

The team has found this journey very rewarding and interesting and we all agreed that the needs for the support of rape survivors in the area visited were vast. We will close this enlightening journey with a quote from Soren Kierkegaard: “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself”.

From the networking meeting in Hermanus

Some of the participants from the networking meeting in Hermanus together with Eleanor

Goodbye and thank you!

Goodbye and thank you!

Stop the Bus! – Day 5 (Trip 2) – Understanding rape

Catherine having a talk about myths and stereotypes regarding rape

Catherine having a talk about myths and stereotypes regarding rape

Today we continued with the capacity building workshop from day 2. The main topic for discussion was understanding rape. Also the pathway through the Criminal Justice System, the legal definition of rape, the new law on Sexual Offences which was implemented in 2007 as well as myths and stereotypes regarding rape such as “all rapists are mentally ill” were addressed.

At around 14 am. some of the team members went to the Community Health Centre in Stanford where we met the operational manager. She informed us that the services for rape victims were poor in this area and the survivors were sent to the hospital in Hermanus. Moreover, this Centre does not do the forensic examination, but it is done by the police station. The only services they render to the victims are that they give them PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) which is an anti-HIV medical treatment, and this has to be taken within 72 hours after the rape in order to have its effect. Also they get offered medication for the side-effects of PEP at the Clinic.

After this very challenging and rewarding day the team closed the evening with having our debriefing and planning for the grand finale tomorrow.

Jemima giving an excellent presentation of victimization

Jemima giving an excellent presentation of victimization

Peliswa and Eleanor together with employees at the Stanford Clinic

Peliswa and Eleanor together with employees at the Stanford Clinic

Stop the Bus 2011 – Day 3 (Trip 2) – Making a difference

Children arriving for the christmas party

Children arriving for the christmas party

Today we started the day by going to Buffelsjagsbaai together with Siswe from Badisa where we did our door to door campaign. This part of the Overberg region is poverty stricken and the need for social support is startling. The unemployment rate is mammoth in this small community (approx. 1,000 people live in this area). Even though, the team was met with warmth and friendliness by the locals, which made us reflect upon how self-absorbed we in our own little bubble can be when facing the difficulties other people have to struggle with in their daily lives.

Afterwards we went to Baardskeerdersbos where we did a talk around about understanding rape at the Family in Focus volunteers Diploma Ceremony and Christmas party, and then we e.g. were entertained by the children singing Christmas songs.

The team all agreed upon being tired today as it had been a challenging day and a lot of us were emotionally drained.

Thobeka tête-à-tête with a male resident in Buffelsjagsbaai

Thobeka tête-à-tête with a male resident in Buffelsjagsbaai

Eleanor and Sizwe together with the locals

Eleanor and Sizwe together with the locals

The team having fun with the locals

The team having fun with the locals

Some of the team members and the participants from the ceremony at Baardskeerdersbos

Some of the team members and the participants from the ceremony at Baardskeerdersbos

Woman from Buffelsjagsbaai

Woman from Buffelsjagsbaai

Eleanor informing the participants about understanding rape

Eleanor informing the participants about understanding rape