A Day in The Life of a Counsellor on Duty
By Jessica Fischer
Women’s House Serving Bruce & Grey
Working as a counselor at the shelter is complicated. NO two days are ever the same. Overall, I support women and children who have experienced abuse and sexual violence. I work from a feminist, anti-oppressive and trauma informed framework. Our shelter practices harm reduction and we are funded for 13 beds. I also offer non-residential counseling, facilitate support groups and provide telephone support.
Many people understand the purpose of a women’s shelter and the basics of our programs, but when I talk about where I work I am always asked, “So what do you do while you are there all day?” This article will shed some light on experiencing “a day in the life of a Counsellor on Duty”.
The biggest part of our jobs is providing a safe place for women and children. When a woman leaves an abusive situation, she is counting on us to keep her and possibly her children safe from her abuser. We know the shelter is likely the safest place possible for her. With everything women deal with when escaping an abusive situation, and the trauma they face and recover from, a safe roof over their heads is not something they should have to worry about.
We always complete a risk assessment with women when they first reach out to us. This helps to determine whether a woman is at a high or low level of risk while using our services and it helps us to safety plan accordingly. High risk situations in the shelter cause us to be more vigilant in our day to day work. We watch for unfamiliar vehicles in our parking lot, monitor security cameras and take extra precautions when our alarm systems are set off. Safety planning with women helps them create an individual plan for improving safety while experiencing abuse.
We also help women work through their pain, providing a listening ear when they’ve been silenced for so long. This involves remaining empathetic and nonjudgmental. It’s helping women learn what trauma is, and how to heal from it, day after day. It’s the multiple conversations that, over time, allow women to build confidence and believe in themselves. So much of our work is advocating for women and their children. We stand with women and fight for them to get what they need.
In addition to providing around the clock support to women in the shelter, Counsellors answer telephone support lines, available for women 24 hours a day. One of these is a sexual assault support line. To put this into perspective, in 2019 women’s house staff provided telephone support on 10,619 occasions to over 938 women.
When we pick up the phone, we never know what to expect. More often than not, on the other end of the line is a woman with the courage to ask for help. She may be looking for guidance with a safety plan, admittance to our shelter, court support, or housing assistance. She may have been sexually assaulted and in need of help. Some callers have experienced abuse in childhood or many times over the course of their lives and are continuing to work through the impact of what they experienced. Whatever the case, we do our best to provide as much information and support as possible. When a call ends, we may never hear from her again. Not knowing what happened after the call is one of the hardest aspects of our job. Did she leave her partner safely? Was she able to secure a lawyer to protect her children? Was she able to access the places she needs, or is she still stuck in her current situation?
Abuse against women and children can’t be sugar coated: it’s a difficult subject and happens in our communities much more that you might think. Statistics tell us that over fifty percent of Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16. During the COVID-19 pandemic, 1 in 10 women are concerned about violence in their homes.
We believe in a better world for women. One where they can be free from abuse and have a sense of control, dignity and safety in every life situation. The real win in this work is witnessing women make positive changes in their lives. The reward comes when women update us months or even years later and tell us that we played a part in saving their lives. These success stories help us persevere; to get up day after day and fight again. The war isn’t over yet. There’s still so much to be done.
We urge you to support your local Violence Against Women shelter, through supporting an event, donating or spreading information. Without your support VAW shelters cannot survive
We also urge you to please speak out about issues of abuse and sexual violence. We must work together, because if we lose these resources, women lose their safety. Women lose the opportunity to escape an abusive situation. Women lose the opportunity to stay alive.
Contact Women’s House Serving Bruce Grey at:
Telephone support – 1.800.265.3026
Business line: 519.396.9814