BY: LESLIE A. FISCHMAN
2nd Draft 9/21/07
CH. 2: METHODS
One Saturday afternoon in the fall of my junior year, while I was on call for the Sexual Assault Survivor Advocate’s (SAVA) rape crisis hotline, I received a call from a local detective reporting that a sexual assault had occurred the previous night. He asked me to go to the emergency room at the local hospital to provide advocacy for a survivor undergoing a rape kit exam. I felt a sudden rush of adrenaline, and quickly flipped through my manual to make sure I had packed all the things I’d need to bring with me to the hospital, including a list of questions I’d need to ask the police and nurses on site. I took a few deep breaths on the drive over, reminding myself that the most important thing I could do would be to show up and be a support system. When I arrived at the ER’s waiting room, Officer Jones of the Local Police Department was already there, pacing around and taking notes in a small book. He gave me a little background information about the “survivor,” Carly.
[CARLY LIVED IN BOULDER COLORADO AT THE TIME CARLY IS A SURVIVOR OF SEX ASSAULT WHO WAS RAPED IN AN ALLEY BY MY APARTMENT NO ONE I KNOW NO ONE I AM RELATED TO AND NO I DO NOT REMEMBER HER REAL NAME NOW, ...
AND NO I DID NOT KNOW I WOULD BE WRITING AN HONORS THESIS ABOUT MY EXPERIENCE AS A HOTLINE COUNSELOR AT THE TIME I WAS VOLUNTEERING AND MET HER AND ASKED WHETHER THIS WAS FOR SCHOOL OR NOT …
AT THE TIME NO NOT FOR SCHOOL, TO HELP OTHERS AND HELP MYSELF COPE WITH TRAUMA AND THE EMPOWERMENT THAT COMES THROUGH HELPING OTHERS AND PUTTING THE NEEDS OF OTHERS BEFORE YOUR OWN]. [NOTE ADDED BY LESLIE FISCHMAN RAPE CRISIS HOTLINE COUNSELOR AND SURVIVOR OF SEXUAL ASSAULT/SURVIVOR OF SEXUAL ABUSE SINCE 2003: 03-08-2015].
After speaking with the officer, I waited anxiously for Carly to finish her examination. About 30 minutes later, a nurse emerged from the emergency room to greet me, saying, “You must be the victim advocate from SAVA—follow me.” As we walked towards the emergency room, she gave me a little background information about Carly and told me to take as much time as I needed to be alone with her. I would be the first person to speak with her after her rape kit examination—not the police officer, and not even her friend in the waiting room.
When I entered the room, I saw a young woman: anxious, nervous, and uneasy. Carly didn’t have to tell me how she was feeling—I could already sense the emotional and physical trauma she had endured. I could see she felt safe with me, because she immediately gave me details about the evening: where she was and what she remembered from the night before. She paused and asked me, “Did you get what you needed—is this for school or something?” I told her that I was there for her, not for information: “I’m here to check in with you, to talk to you about how you’re feeling, and to make sure you get all of the help and support you need.” Carly started to tear up, and I became a human sponge, absorbing all the emotions she was expressing. She was only a year older than I, and a college student as well, so I tried to put myself in her shoes and relate to her experience. I was just as shocked as she was, and I understood the concerns she was having about family and friends and their reactions. The more closely I felt I could relate to the trauma of her experience, the more difficult it became for me to separate myself emotionally. Part of my role as victim advocate requires me to maintain a balance between being emphatic while at the same time avoiding any personal attachments to the client. When an emotional closeness develops during the sharing of their experience and feelings, working as a victim’s advocate can be personally draining and emotionally overwhelming. But the most rewarding aspect of this work is helping others, giving them the support and resources they need in order to begin to cope. However, I always feel as though I could do more, and this is where my interest in composing an honors thesis came from. I know how to talk to people in crisis, and the skills I have learned through working with victims has made me more sensitive to their needs and concerns. I find it immensely satisfying when I can help guide them through the process of healing and
recovery from the trauma they experienced.
With each and every new experience, I am learning both how to better assess my
own emotional triggers and reactions, and how to be more effective in working with and helping others. And in doing so, I have increased my awareness about the lack of support and funding needed to accommodate the victims of sex and hate crimes-- crimes that are often unacknowledged and ignored. There is a dire need for adequate services provided by both clinicians and first respondents to crisis situations, such as SASA hotline counselors.
I am writing this research paper to understand why there are so few studies done of service providers in assisting trauma survivors and how a lack of adequate research and findings affects the kinds of funding that go into victim services. Thus affecting the effectiveness of the treatment of trauma survivors and the number and diversity of resources available to them to help them cope with crisis.
Awareness is the key to understanding. But I want to do more than merely be aware—I want to do something to help make change happen in the lives of those I have spoken to. I feel that because I have had experience with working with trauma survivors I can develop a more thorough understanding of my own experiences by learning from the mechanisms experts in their field have used to support and enhance the level of treatment they can provide to those in need.
What I do today and the choices I make for myself now have a significant influence on the person that I will be, and the degree to which I allow my experiences to shape the person that I am and the way I see the world today.
While working on the hotline, I have seen the difference that one person can make. By simply believing in someone who is otherwise dismissed and questioned by everyone else, I can impact their life for the better. My experience helping others has taught me more about myself, and has influenced what I want to do and who I hope to be one day. It has also been a source of inspiration for me to pursue an honors thesis and provide evidence of the emotional trauma associated with sexual assault and the complex emotion management strategies used by those who provide advocacy and services to victims of trauma in crisis situations. By detailing the experiences of the counselors and professional therapists, I hope to provide a nuianced understanding of the role that therapist and hotline counselor play while providing support to victims of sexual assault and how their experiences ultimately have an effect on their sense of sense and purpose in life.
Subjects & Setting:
The primary subjects of my research are compromised of group of volunteers and few professional therapists who work specifically with survivor’s of sexual assault. The majority of my research and findings have come from members of the Sexual Assault Survivor Advocates SASA, an organization located in a small mountain town in the Midwest. SASA is a non-profit organization that provides a 24hour rape crisis hotline service to members in the surrounding community. SASA provides hotline counseling services, on-site victim advocacy to survivor’s undergoing rape kit examinations and some individual and group counseling services. SASA functions as a resource to survivor’s of sexual assault and provides free and confidential hotline counseling
services, in addition to providing referrals to clients and follow-up to help meet their individual needs.
Description of Research Setting:
The physical setting of my research can be described as “quasi-private” and is strictly limited to those who possess membership within the group. The settings in which I plan to conduct my research are mostly restricted to and accessible only by those certified and approved by MESA. The main focus of my research will be conducted in settings which involve face-to-face interaction among group members, such as the MESA office, monthly team meetings, monthly Supergroup meetings, holiday parties, fundraising events, and an annual volunteer appreciation day event. However some settings are not as tangible and involve interaction among participants over the telephone. This is one aspect of my settings I will be unable to observe and will have to gather data through interviewing the counselors myself. Those on the receiving end of the hotline may include individuals who participate in the answering service, active hotline counselors, office staff, or a wide-array of potential callers some whom remain anonymous. Information exchanged over the telephone between counselors and callers is strictly confidential and may be difficult for me to include in my data collection and analysis portion of my research.
The most tangible physical settings I can describe are the main office and team meeting settings. The main office consists of approximately seven separate rooms, designated to individuals staffed in the office. Those who have their own office are the case manager, the executive director, the client services coordinator, the adult education coordinator, and other significant members of the MESA staff who work along side these
executive member positions. Upon walking into the office, the first thing I see is the front desk, which is staffed when clients or guests are expected to arrive, otherwise no one ever sits there. The front desk is usually covered in flyers for upcoming events, new member training session flyers, business cards, magnets, and other pamphlets pertaining to sexual assault survivors.
As an organization, MESA attracts individuals from all walks of life to come and volunteer their time. Most volunteers are 20 years or older, and the executive staff is on average much older than the active hotline counselors. The majority of individuals volunteering and working for MESA are females and males make up the minority of participants on the team. Each member is assigned their own roles and responsibilities to the team and contributes in their own way.
The principles which guide MESA’s movement to end sexual assault has a lot to do with the way in which counselors not only interact with the caller, but how we interact with one another. One of MESA’s biggest concerns about the general behavior of their staff, is that they always keep certain openness to each other and to callers a well. Some behavioral norms that would describe MESA volunteers is being respectful of one another, always maintaining an open communication with one another, being responsible, committed to one’s roles and duties on the team, and being an all around good listener to both the callers and to the rest of the team.
One of the critical components to being a member on the team is signing up for at least 2-3, 12 hours shifts a month. It is the counselors responsibility to sign up for shifts and to find someone to cover for them if they are unable to take calls for a shift they had previously signed up for. This would be an example of a formal rule that has been
established by the MESA executive members. It is also required that we attend the monthly team meeting, which takes place in the same location at the same time the first Thursday of every month. Some of the more informal roles of the counselors would be participating in Supergroup meetings. There are four Supergroups, consisting of approximately 8-10 counselors per group, and led by two senior members of the staff. These meetings are usually held in a more informal settings such as someone’s apartment or house. Supergroup meetings generally do not abide by a set agenda like the team meetings do and contain more non-MESA conversation among participants. The Supergroup meetings are a great place for new and old counselors to interact and socialize with one another while eating dinner (potluck style), in a more comfortable setting. Supergroup meetings are a time for counselors to discuss any calls they have had in the previous month, and talk about their feelings and how they handled a particularly difficult call. These meetings are particularly useful for new members to get helpful suggestions and critical feedback on the techniques they used by the more experienced members on the team.
For the past three years I have been a member of SASA and volunteer on the rape crisis hotline. Therefore according to Lofland et al. 2006 (41) I took on “the insider participant researcher role.” I began the pursuit of my honors thesis research during my junior year and after two years of being a hotline counselor. After already establishing myself as a complete member I was given a research advantage of already knowing “the cast of characters” (Adler and Adler 1987)(in Lofland et al. 2006) I was interested in interviewing. The most difficult part of the research process was not scheduling the
interviews but getting permission from the University’s research committee to begin my research and proceed with the interview and data gathering process.
I see myself as taking on the role of an “observer-interactant-participant- inverstigator” in this particular research setting. Upon gaining “complete membership” to this organization in November 2004, I have already established my position as not only an insider but also as significant member among a “cast of characters” all of whom I have direct access to for interviewing and observation. Since the time I gained entrée into the organization up until now I believe I have established a certain degree of trust with my fellow MESA team members. I have also proven myself to be fully capable and qualified as a member of the team, proving to be an asset to the team when I was awarded the Helping Hands Award for November 2005, for my extended efforts and contributions to the team. I feel that I have earned to respect of my team and acknowledgement of my commitment to them and their goals as an organization. In order to establish myself as a legitimate researcher, I had to dedicate more of my time interacting with members of the team, beyond the required formal and informal meetings held each month. My role required me to not only sign up for my hotline shifts per month, but to also attend more than my monthly Supergroup meeting. I planned to attend as many meetings as possible in order to facilitate the initial scheduling of interviews with a number of participants, who were most accessible to ask in person at the meetings and group events.
There are many factors which motivate me to conduct this particular setting. One of the most salient motivating factors is that I am able to “start where I am” in my own “nest” where I can further examine an organization which I am already a part of (Lofland
et al. 2006). A setting in which I can commit to a certain number of hours per week to an organization I already volunteer up to 40 hours a month to. In this particular setting I am already designated as a “full-fledged participant.” As a “full-fledged participant” I have complete access to most if not all aspects of the organization. I am able to communicate with the “gatekeepers” who are in control of new membership as well as those in control of the entire organization itself (Adler and Adler 1987)(in Lofland et al. 2006).
There is generally no aspect of this setting that troubles me, because if there was something that made me feel uncomfortable, I would not be doing the work that I do. Part of becoming a member on the team is overcoming any personal doubts and fears about what we have yet not experienced, however through the course of my training and working as an active hotline counselor I have become more and more comfortable within this setting. The aspects I find most exciting about this setting and organization are times when I am called out to the hospital on a Hotcall, to meet face-to-face with a survivors. These are both the most exciting and most nerve racking experiences I have had on the hotline. What most troubles me is not having the safety of being in my own home talking with complete stranger, but being in a public setting surrounded by nurses, detectives, and police officers, and still be able to carry on my same role as an advocate, however also now as a researcher.
The Interview Process:
The majority participants I chose to interview are either counselors and/or staff volunteering for and working for this organization. In addition I also interviewed a few local professional therapist who provide services to victims of sexual assault and crime. I was able to pool my research participants from a phone and email list provided by the
organization, which I had been approved access to as a volunteer and member of their staff. I also had access to the organization’s resource manual and list of referrals provided to hotline counselors, which I used to contact local professionals. I was able to use SASA’s resource guide to create my own list of referrals and specialist in the field, and who are licensed professionals and experts in their field in terms of their knowledge about the effects of sexual assault and how to effectively treat victims of sexual assault. In addition, whenever possible interviewed participants in person, either by going to the office and finding them there, or by approaching them after group meetings, to make appointments with them.
In preparation for each interview I prepared an interview packet, consisting of an informed consent form, and an “interview guide” (Lofland 2006:105). I used a method of “intensive interviewing” (Lofland 2006:17), a combination of natural conversation and “semi-structured interviewing involving the use of an interview guide consisting of a list of” 13-17 open-ended questions, to direct the conversation, however not to impede the natural flow of the dialogue between us (Lofland 2006). The interviews lasted for about an hour. I met the volunteers either at their home or at SASA’s main office. At the beginning of each interview, I had the volunteers sign an informed consent form for my records and handed back to them a copy signed by the human researchers committee that approved my research. The informed consent form was provided to them at the beginning of the interview in order to give them some background information about the study and to inform them of their rights and right to privacy as a participant. Although I did collect identifying information about them, for my own personal records, I did allow them to choose a pseudonym, for me to use when referring back to their interview in my research
paper. So far, I have interviewed nine volunteers, all of whom are female, and range in age from 21 years old to 53 years old.
Developing a base of trust was one of the most important factors that enabled me to probe further during the interviews and get personal in-depth accounts of their experiences as a volunteer. While interviewing my fellow hotline counselors I could easily relate to the stories they told and the experiences they have had. My shared experiences with the hotline counselors, allowed them to feel more comfortable opening up to me and being honest about their feelings, rather than if I was a stranger and non- member.
In order to establish myself as a legitimate researcher, I had to dedicate more of my time volunteering and interacting with members of the team, beyond the required formal and informal meetings held each month. I decided to dedicate more of my time by interning in the office, however lasted only five weeks before getting burnt-out. I also attended meetings regularly, and even hosted a group meeting at my apartment. I hoped that my increased involved and commitment to the organization who in turn reinforce my presence as a legitimate ethnographer and as reliable volunteer who can always be counted on to show up. Keeping a flexible interview schedule and making myself easily accessible to those interested in being interviewed, helped to establish a certain comfort level with my participants, and my willingness to adapt to their schedule, rather than assign them a time and place myself.
However the way in which I conducted interviews with clinical professionals required more preparation. The questions I asked them were focused more on uncovering their life experiences, professional experiences and academic history. I focused less on
following the questions in the sequence I had planned out and went with the flow of the interview. The purpose of interviewing professionally trained therapists was to get information specific to vicarious trauma in order to gain a better understanding of the experience of trauma and vicarious trauma from a clinical standpoint. While probing further at the appropriate moment to address the coping strategies they used to prevent feeling burnt out or experiencing vicarious trauma.
Throughout my research so far, I have kept a journal of some general thoughts or questions that came to mind during field observation or during the interviews. I found that writing down ideas as they came to me, in no specific order, helped me to keep a written track of any new developments in order to avoid repeating ideas already mentioned. Writing down my thoughts helped prepare me for each interview, and ask questions pertaining to information I knew little about and that they could possibly explain and or give me more information and resources to study further on my own. After each interview I recorded in my journal basic information about the interviewee, including details about their general behaviors, the location, and any significant changes in mood or emotions felt during the interview. All the notes taken during the interviews were transcribed from my written transcripts to typed files on my computer saved under secured and personally locked settings.
Code of Ethics and Maintaining Confidentiality:
After three years of being a volunteer and victim advocate I have become more familiar with the issues regarding confidentiality and the limitations to the information that can be shared with members outside the organization. As a researcher I have spent hours completing online tutorials and quizzes as part of fulfilling the University’s Human
Researchers Committee (HRC) requirement to conduct a qualitative research study and to protect the safety of participants and make sure that the research being conducted does not harm them in any way shape or form.
Another code or ethics associated with my research involves cite checking and keeping an annotated bibliography to keep track of my sources which have more than doubled since the paper I wrote for my research methods course.
Since resigning from my role as a hotline counselor and office intern, I have renegotiated the set of ethics and standards expected from me as member of their organization. As a non-member, I felt I had more freedom to explore areas of study about the organization I did notice or were not as visible as member. It helped me to see the bigger picture and gave me more time to interview professional therapists and counselors associated with different providers servicing sexual assault victims in the community.
In order to maintain confidentiality and anonyminity of the interviewees identity and the organization to which they are associated, I had to create pseudo names for them. I have also created alternative acronyms and organizations titles to preserve their anonyminity. As a researcher and ex-member of SAVA I have to follow the ethical principles required by me to conduct research and in order to maintain the ethical value of my research to members in the community. One significant reason confidentiality is so important, relates to the purposes of practicing feminist methodology. Feminist theories are essentially meant to empower not disempower and or marginalize groups of people in society. Also the purposes of doing research are not to cause harm therefore maintaining confidentiality is significant to maintaining the integrity of the organization and to promote the overall well-being of the community.
Obstacles and Challenges:
As an in-group member, I took on the role of both the hotline counselor and researcher. “Some feminists” (33) define this “struggle between objectivity and subjectivity” in relation what is called “Cartesian Dualisms” (33). In order to legitimize my findings I had to make sure that I selected a diverse number of individuals.
I incorporated both the subjective experiences of the counselors and professionals working with sexual assault survivors and other objective forms of research in support of my thesis. I was inspired in part by Ruddick (1980) in Ramazanoglu & Holland (2006) who challenges feminist researchers “to think differently, to ask new questions, make new connections, to value the intuition and skills, . . .and to value [our] own experiences” as “legitimate sources of knowledge” which have otherwise been “devalued by the dominance of claims to rationality and objectivity” (52). So that we can recognize the value of personal experience and that it “is not the same as subjectivity being separate from, or superior to, objectivity” (Ramazanoglu & Holland, 53). Essentially encouraging feminist to draw from “personal knowledge, in light of feminist theory” enables women to share their “experiences in living gendered lives in conditions of social inequality” (52).
All volunteers are required to complete a mandatory 40-hr training, that involves teaching counselors how to respond to survivors on the hotline and how to be effective and emphatic listeners. Many of the skills they learn through training and interaction with other members contributes to the overall success of the organization, as well as the satisfaction felt by those volunteering their time. “Fostering strong, supportive
relationships between volunteers” (Black & DiNitto 1994:78) is one of the primary goals of this particular organization’s techniques for retaining its volunteers as well as reminding those who volunteer, the significance of their commitment to an organization. Lofland’s (2006) description of the process of “getting in and gaining the acceptance” relates to the ways in which new members rely heavily on experienced members for support and growth into their role as a counselor. He specifically describes the ways in which “emotions generated within some support groups are used as resources to sustain commitment to the group” (138). Normalizing one another’s feelings is one way in which counselors can reinforce one another’s feelings and be supportive. The support from group members combined with constant affirmation, positively reinforces the importance of their role, and continues to inspire them to keep doing the work that they do.
Part of the training process involves familiarizing new counselors with the language associated and related to debriefing and providing counseling services to survivor’s of sexual assault. One such example of the specificity of word choice used by members of the rape crisis hotline, occurs when referring to their client as a “survivor” rather than a “victim.” Differences in word choice and usage influences our ability to communicate and empower the survivor. For instance “words [in effect] can shape how we think and the beliefs we hold” (Everly & Mitchell, 211) and within organizations such as SASA, being consistent to usage of words consistent with the broader scope of sexual assault advocacy groups, helps to maintain the strength and power of their rhetoric (their voice). Thus, when words are used in context are inconsistent with clinical definitions they lose the strength of the meaning they once held. Everly & Mitchell (2000) refer to
this process in the words of a famous poet T.S. Eliot, “that words decay with imprecision” (211).
One of the key ethical issues surrounding the role of the hotline counselor is the importance on maintaining the caller’s confidentiality. As a hotline counselor, their duty is to protect the confidentiality of the client and adhere to principles necessary to sustain the integrity of the organizations to which they are apart of.
The role of a rape crisis hotline counselor is not a volunteer opportunity for everyone. In fact organizations such as S.A.S.A. require an extensive screening and interview process before perspective volunteers are invited to training. In addition, even those who do make it to training are not guaranteed a position on the hotline. Final decisions and cuts are not made until the prospective volunteers have proven themselves to be capable of fulfilling the organizations requirements and expectations they have of their volunteers.
Lois (2001) argues that the “exchange of emotions” (138) between the counselor and the survivor, plays a fundamental role in the formation of the “rapid and intimate bond” (132) by “strangers (who) support people in crisis” (132). The establishment of an emotional bond with the survivor, coupled with the development of a heart connection to them, are the two most important goals the counselor tries to accomplish early on in the call. Lois (2001) describes the exchange of feelings between the counselor and the caller as being part of a “socioemotional economy” (138), in which callers can feel comfortable expressing themselves in a safe and confidential space. As an organization, their goal is not to fix the caller’s problems, but rather to help guide them through the process of healing. Kemper and Reid (in Lois 2001) describe the way counselors create
“a sense of mutual obligation” (142) by what Goffman (in Lois 2001) describes as making themselves emotionally “accessible to others” (142).
Supergroup meetings conducted by SASA (Sexual Assault Survivor Advocates) provide a safe and confidential space for counselor’s to debrief and share their experiences with one another. Organizations centered on building peer-support networks such as SASA, reinforce the “value of ongoing training for volunteers serving in a high stress environment” (Hellman & House 2006:122). Recent studies have set a precedent for sexual assault victim advocates and organizational leaders to provide counselor’s with adequate support and training deemed necessary to “improve a volunteer’s self-efficacy and . . . perhaps increasing the volunteer’s sustainability” (122).
George S. Everly, Jr., Ph.D. and Jeffrey T. Mitchell, Ph.D. provide research on what they call “the debriefing controversy” and a shift in focus within crisis intervention research. Their study investigates the “effectiveness of crisis intervention” (211) and the “need to now focus upon ‘who’ does crisis intervention, to ‘whom’ and in ‘what specific situations’ (211) underlying “the foundation of the field of crisis intervention” (211). Essentially, rape crisis hotline counselors serve as listeners rather than therapist. Their job is not to give advice, “problem solve,” or fix the client, they are there for the client to “debrief” and talk about their experience. As a result, when counselor do speak, what they say, and the words they choose to express their understanding or another’s situation or the words they choose to help normalize the caller’s feelings, contain more power than they would under another context.
Building a Theoretical Framework
Before establishing a theoretical framework from which to base my findings, I spent many hours researching and reflecting on my findings and the constructing a sense of purpose to my research. I began making subtle shifts in focus from the role of the hotline counseling in helping others, to how they apply the skills that they learn during training and on the hotline to helping themselves.
I was introduced to theory of emotion management during a summer course entitled “Self in Modern Society” and became inspired to switch majors and pursue a degree in Sociology instead of Psychology. The course was taught by a graduate student whose passion for the topics discussed in class, challenged me to look deeper into the theory of emotion and individuals sense of self and management of their identity. My research began during this course, and started with one article entitled “Managing Emotions in an Animal Shelter” by Arnold Arluke, which was the focus of group research paper and project. Since then I have developed a general interest in relating what I’ve learned in past and applying those theories to new settings. I discovered the power of theory to give us insight into the meanings we hold about ourselves in relation to others as structuring our interpretation and processing of emotions and the way we feel. [frame our experiences and interactions with others, by supplying us with meaning and structure to the way we interpret the world around us and the individuals in it.]
Sociology became my way of making sense of my experiences, and my sense of self in relation to the world around me. Throughout my coursework I have learned how to apply the theories taught in class to the way I interpret and come to understand myself and the experiences of others. From a feminist methodological standpoint, my studies and life experiences enabled me to challenge challenges “ dominant conceptions of how truth
can be known” (Ramazanoglu & Holland, 32) by dissecting traditional “binary thinking in western thought” (33) and instead incorporating a more diverse set of factors and measurements to study the social world (32).
Feminist Methodology challenges “ dominant conceptions of how truth can be known” (Ramazanoglu & Holland, 32) by dissecting traditional “binary thinking in western thought” (33) and instead incorporating a more diverse set of factors and measurements to study the social world (32). I examined how individual, social, and environmental factors are interwoven together to create an accurate representation of the reality of one’s experiences. Taking this approach meant recognizing the uniqueness of individual experiences as a way to empower victims. One way counselor’s were able to do this is by showing compassion for others, and finding that space within ourselves to be present and open with them and let go of any preconceived judgements or personal biases we’ve had in the past.
Re-establishing My Role as a Committed Volunteer and Researcher
After a few months break from SASA I re-established my commitment to the organization last spring, taking a few shifts and attended the monthly meetings. When I came back I was greeted and welcomed back in way that felt as though I had never taken a break, which led me to question whether they really noticed me missing or if I did something that’s common among hotline counselors, it was as if they knew I was coming back and expected I would.
As my research progressed so did my methods of gathering data. This past summer I decided to become more involved with the organization, by volunteering as an
intern in the office. I wanted to take on a role that I assumed required less emotion work and cognitive restructuring and involved more mindless tasks that seemed less physically and emotionally demanding of me. Until the client services coordinator wanted to put my in charge of the summer garage sale, a task I felt totally unprepared for: making signs, posters, flyers, walking around the neighborhood posting flyers on random apartment buildings in the area and on street poles -Going through people’s junk and old clothes and putting a price tag on someone else’s garbage hardly felt like a rewarding task, and more of a chore. However underneath all the junk I made an important discovery, a breakthrough in my research.
At the point of my personal breakthrough in my research, I uncovered the archival records (Lofland et. al, 2006) of one man’s graduate level coursework and research, whose things were donated to SASA’s summer garage sale, the one thing I was in charge of all summer, sifting through junk, the chore that ended up being the most significant breakthrough in my research findings.
I later found out that he was student at a local graduate school where he studied psychotherapy and that he recently passed away. I was shocked, looking at the date on his Master’s thesis that indicated he had graduated only a year ago. In boxes contained all of his books, papers, notebooks, clothes, picture frames, furniture, his life in boxes including his diploma. I paid five bucks for something that took him a lifetime to achieve, I felt like I was robbing a bank, and couldn’t believe they were going to throw away all of his work. I still feel guilty but I’d also rather sift through dozens of boxes and thousands of papers to find articles than sit at the computer spending hours looking up articles on
electronic databases that need to be ordered on the interlibrary loan and would then take a week to retrieve.
Reading his work has given me deeper insight into the field of psychotherapy and the dynamic relationship between the client and the counselor/therapist, occurring in trauma therapy settings and on rape crisis hotlines. My findings have been significantly buffered by this man’s work and archival records of the journal articles he had studied throughout his coursework. Incorporating psychoanalytic research, transpersonal psychological studies, and sociological research has given me a deeper understanding of the theory of emotion and how it applies to the development of an individuals sense of self in relation to those around them.
At the heart of feminist theory is the “goal of emancipation” (35) which is “critical to the production of feminist knowledge . . .what constitutes progress, and who envisages what should be transformed for whom, remain contested and often confused and contradictory” resulting from Young (1985) questioning “notions of progress and individual notions of agency” (35). Therefore it was critical for me to establish a theoretical standpoint that I could use to ground my ideas in and establish a set of legitimate and logical conclusions based on the information I gathered. I want to make clear that the goal of my research was not to point out the weakness in order to undermine the integrity of organizations such as these as a whole, but to find ways to improve upon the quality of treatment and care provided to sexual assault survivors; in order to benefit survivors, clinicians, counselors, and victim advocacy programs progress toward the “massive social transformation of interlinked forms of oppression” and how
they can more effectively combat symptoms and signs of its opposing forces.
Ford, L.A., & Crabtree, R.D. (2002). “Telling, Re-telling and Talking about Telling: Disclosure and/as Surviving Incest”. Women’s Studies in Communication, 25(1), 53-87.
Lois, Jennifer. 2001. “Managing Emotions, Intimacy, and Relationships in a Volunteer Search and Rescue Group.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 30(2):131- 179.
Lofland, et., Al. 2006. Analyzing Social Settings: A Guide to Qualitative Observation and Analysis. California: Thomson Wadsworth.
Ramazanoglu, Caroline and Holland, Janet. 2006. Feminist Methodology: Challenges and Choices. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Ltd.
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Leslie A. Fischman