CHOICES Counsellor

Counsellor (Symptom Management Sessions) – CHOICES

CHOICES, established in 1986, offers a confidential trauma-informed counselling service throughout Cambridgeshire and Peterborough for women and men who have experienced sexual abuse in childhood. Alongside its primary counselling service, the charity also delivers a short-term practical and psychoeducational package to help those people waiting for long-term, weekly counselling sessions. This programme helps clients to cope with the many symptoms survivors experience which range from nightmares and flashbacks to anxiety and depression and ensures they benefit more rapidly from one-to-one counselling when it begins.

We talk to Olivia* who works as a counsellor for CHOICES primarily delivering Symptom Management Sessions.

How long have you been in the role?

4 years.

What was your (professional/voluntary) background before taking on this job?

Prior to working for Choices, I worked as a diagnostic radiographer both in the UK and overseas. In addition to my work with Choices, I work at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College, London in a research capacity and also in private practice, as a trauma-focused psychotherapist.

What sort of support do you offer?

Very simply, our aim is to help clients better understand what trauma is, how it is currently impacting them (and their relationship with others), and how to better manage their symptoms. Many of our clients are largely unaware of the nature and impact of trauma, and will often present struggling to manage their emotions, feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with life, feeling like they are constantly on edge, feeling disconnected from themselves and the world around them and struggling with difficult/intrusive thoughts relating to the event/s (flashbacks, nightmares, strong physiological reactions to things that remind them of the event). Through psychoeducation we help our clients to understand and normalise their symptoms in the context of trauma. In giving them the tools to better manage those symptoms and hopefully reduce them, and, in reassuring them that with the right support their trauma does not have to define them, we give them hope for the future.

In addition, and where necessary, we can signpost clients to other agencies/services for support.

Can you think of a victim/witness that you recently supported and describe what you think helped them recover/report/seek support?

I recently supported a client, who had been referred to Choices with a history of childhood sexual and emotional abuse. At the time of referral, she was in an emotionally abusive relationship, had chronic health issues, was struggling to manage her emotions, and had low self-esteem and lacked confidence. Through our six sessions together, in an environment in which she felt safe, listened to, and validated, it was possible to help the client contextualise, understand and manage her symptoms better and to acknowledge the fact that she was in an emotionally abusive relationship. Through this process, the client was able to normalise her symptoms, develop self-awareness and self-compassion and feel empowered to confront her abuser (who is now seeking therapy himself). At the end of the six sessions, the client reported that she felt less overwhelmed, better equipped to deal with her trauma symptoms and more hopeful for the future.

* Names have been changed to maintain anonymity.

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