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The Ipswich Women’s Centre Against Domestic Violence (IWCADV) is a feminist community based organisation committed to working towards the elimination of domestic and family violence throughout the community. The primary focus of IWCADV is to provide support to women and children survivors of domestic and family violence. This includes telephone information, referral and support services, court support for women, counselling services, group work and children’s work. During my placement experience as a women’s counsellor at IWCADV I first spent a few weeks developing my understanding of the issues involved in domestic violence and the systems that are in place to support women and children who are survivors of domestic and family violence.
My knowledge of the issues affecting women and children experiencing domestic and family violence includes an understanding of the emotional impacts of abuse (such as feelings of grief and loss, anger, guilt, depression, trauma), the loss of personal and physical security, safety concerns, the financial costs, family law and other legal issues, and power and control imbalances in relationships.
I have developed my knowledge of the issues affecting women and children experiencing domestic and family violence in my university studies and my work experience. The understanding that I gained from my University studies was enhanced during my student placement at the Ipswich Women’s Centre Against Domestic Violence. It was here that I developed my understanding of feminist perspectives on domestic and family violence, including the individual, familial, legal and social issues. In this role I was able to develop my understanding of feminist informed practises and techniques. I support this framework for practice as it can empower women and help them find their voice, encouraging women who have experienced the loss of control to make choices about their own life and to take responsibility for their life choices and to take back control. I worked from within a feminist framework to empower the client to find her voice and to discover her worth and make her own choices.
In my role as a student counsellor at IWCADV I provided crisis support and advocacy work to women who have experienced domestic and family violence. During the beginning counselling sessions, I found it was quite difficult to always follow the story and set direction for the counselling. I took a strengths based narrative approach and usually after 2 -3 sessions a clearer picture had developed of the client’s experience with domestic violence, and this continued to unfold throughout the counselling sessions.
One of the most personally rewarding aspects of my counselling experience was the opportunity to explore and experience symbol and sand tray therapy. I spent some time reading Sandplay and Symbol Work – Emotional healing and personal development with children, adolescents and adults by Mark Pearson and Helen Wilson to prepare for my personal experience with symbols and sand tray therapy during my professional supervision sessions. I then had the opportunity to introduce one of my counselling clients to the sand tray. Whilst I did have feelings of uncertainty about my ability to facilitate the process, I did feel comfortable enough with the setting and with my client to create a safe place for self-discovery and self-awareness. She was very open to the process and we both found this to be an enjoyable and meaningful experience. My client reported that this was a very positive experience for her and allowed her to process some of her experiences with domestic violence and that it was a breakthrough for her in terms of learning to accept and value herself. I felt that it was an honour to share this part of my client’s journey.
With another client who was directed by the Department of Child Safety to attend counselling, setting the direction for each session was more difficult. I did not believe that this woman was ready to explore some of the emotional issues related to the trauma that she had experienced as a result of long term domestic violence. I was encouraged by her regular attendance and I believe that this was a result of my increasing ability to develop rapport. I was able to develop good rapport with my clients by being non-judgemental, using open ended questions and appropriate body language. I believe that my skill in developing rapport is reflected by the feedback and regular attendance to counselling sessions by my clients.
I did struggle with ending the sessions on time and frequently found that sessions with some clients were running over 1.5 hours long. I spoke with some of the other workers at the service about this and they agreed that it could be difficult especially when women are exploring very painful issues and that it was important to be sensitive but direct when closing a counselling session.
The group supervision times that I was included in at IWCADV were also very rewarding and inspiring times for me. The other workers at the service were all very passionate women with a strong commitment to empowering women and changing community attitudes about violence towards women. During group supervision there was opportunity and support for workers to reflect on their own feelings of despair and helplessness, and there was encouragement to extend and share your knowledge and understanding of the issues relating to domestic and family violence. The group times were also very rewarding team building occasions and there is a strong commitment at the service to supporting one another. For example, I found that after long phone calls or after a counselling session, another worker would check-in with me to provide any support and to answer any questions that I had.
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