By: Leslie Fischman
This research explores organizational structure and interpersonal relationships among a group of individuals volunteering and working for a rape crisis center. Focusing on the emotional growth hotline counselors experience while giving support to survivors of sexual assault. Various members within one local rape crisis center have been interviewed about their experiences and the process they go through becoming a hotline counselor. The purpose of this study is to raise awareness and illuminate the truth behind providing advocacy and the intensity of their experience of working with rape victims. By dissolving the myths surrounding victims of rape and the necessity for organizations such as S.A.V.A. (Sexual Assault Victim Advocates) to assist victims of crime with the informational and emotional support they need to cope with the trauma of being sexually assaulted. ways in which they learn and practice the skills they acquire through experience and through interacting with other volunteers and callers on the hotline.
How counselors respond and react to these crisis situations is crucial to their emotional well-being and sense of balance. Utilizing the organization’s structured support groups and meetings are key to helping counselor’s cope with the after affects of repeated exposure to traumatized victims of sexual assault in crisis.
Mandatory training for new counselors plays a pivotal role in their future success as a hotline counselor. Where counselors learn proper techniques for coping when exchanging emotions with survivors and yet still maintain an emotional balance. During training is where counselors become familiar with the many emotion management
Leslie Fischman July 4, 2007
strategies needed to cope with mentally and emotionally stressful events and crisis situations.
Boundary Maintenance is one of the greatest challenges a counselor faces, to find a healthy balance between developing an emotional closeness to the caller and at the same time maintain their ability to distance themselves emotionally. An inability to effectively maintain boundaries can lead to unhealthy consequences. Thus, affecting the counselor’s emotional well-being and the longevity of their commitment to the organization.
Rape crisis counselors’ exposure to violence and stories of trauma and victimization on an ongoing basis, can leave the counselor feeling caught up and overwhelmed. Listening and feeling the pain of others is unavoidable at times and counselor’s may suffer emotionally in response to their interaction with callers on the hotline. Subsequently, counselors may endure symptoms of vicarious trauma and feel similarly to the ways survivor’s respond to their traumatizing experiences.
Many try but are unable to commit to their role as a rape crisis hotline counselor for this very reason. Speaking to victim’s of sexual assault can trigger an array of unwanted feelings that some counselor’s may find difficult coping with. Therefore another focus of my research will be discovering the motivations behind those who stay and how they do it. Particularly what they learn about themselves in the process and how they come to identify themselves after integrating themselves within the organization. Illustrating how being apart of this kind of work requires more than a willingness and “heartfelt commitment” to help others cope with violence, and how to avoid the potential of “burnout” (manual, 16) on the job.
S.A.V.A (Sexual Assault Victim Advocates) offers a series of techniques, which can be used to manage stress on the job: debriefing, natural support systems, boundaries, laughing often, mini-breaks, supervision, rest and relaxation, visualization, meditation, cognitive restructuring, nutrition and exercise, and time management. All of which play a vital role in maintaining emotional strength and balance, “to go the distance and fulfill the time-commitment to the rape crisis center” (manual, 19). As the manual states: “counselors can only be fully successful if they learn and integrate the lifelong practice of renewing inner sources.”
As a volunteer and victim advocate myself, I felt compelled to develop a better understanding of what we do, how we do it, and what many of the counselors and I have learned about ourselves in the process. Specifically the challenges organization’s such as S.A.V.A face and their reliance and dependence on volunteers, government funds, and private donors, to sustain the services they provide to survivors of sexual assault. In particular the stress managed by the administration and directors of the program to keep it functioning and maintain its standards and ability to follow-up and follow-thru with callers, manage cases in accordance with laws and regulations, while at the same time upholding confidentiality agreements.
I will discuss the framework behind S.A.S.A’s non-profit organization, specially how its administration manages the work cut out for them in their fight against violence. I will illustrate how the skills counselors learn through training are mirrored throughout their interaction amongst themselves and with those outside the organization.