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Recently, we introduced you to Shirin, one of our long-time Women’s Counsellor Advocates. Each month, we’ve been shadowing Shirin to give you an idea of what a day’s work is like as a counsellor at Interval House.
While women live at Interval House, they attend group counselling sessions twice weekly: on Mondays and Thursdays. These counselling groups cover a wide variety of topics from self-esteem, the cycle of abuse, and healthy relationships to time management and budgeting.
Today, Shirin is leading a counselling group on problem-solving. The goal of all counselling groups is to help women at Interval House gain practical life skills and to interact as a group. Because all the women have the shared experience of fleeing an abusive relationship, being in a group and talking about these types of issues can be a big opportunity for growth, healing, and friendship.
To start the problem-solving group, Shirin asks the residents to pick a common problem that they face. Once they’ve selected a problem, they brainstorm as a group to see which technique or approach will work best.
“I always ask everyone to share as much as possible,” says Shirin. “We won’t force women to participate, but when they see other residents open up, it encourages them to share too.”
Last week, Shirin led a group on assertiveness. Shirin led the group through some activities to help them practice standing up for themselves in a way that’s assertive, but not angry or aggressive. A few days later, one of the women who joined that group, Melinda*, went to the office to speak with Shirin.
“I practiced the techniques you taught me, Shirin,” Melinda told her. “I said ‘no!’”
While it might seem like a small step, being assertive and communicating boundaries can be a huge step towards rebuilding confidence and self-esteem for women like Melinda. For many of the women at Interval House, being assertive can be difficult: they may have trained themselves to walk on eggshells for so long to avoid their abuser becoming angry.
For that reason, counselling groups like the ones Shirin runs are an important stepping stone for women on their road to independence and a life free from violence.
For the next few months, we’ll be giving you a glimpse into Shirin’s work, taking you step-by-step through a day in the life of a counsellor at Interval House. Stay tuned for the next part in our series, when we follow Shirin through the process of helping a resident move out.
*Names and some details have been changed for safety and privacy.