A Counselor’s Perspective…

by Claire Bennett, Safe Harbor Shelter Counselor

I am the person she comes to first…

 – When she realizes she’s pregnant for the third time by her abuser 
 – When she’s diagnosed with Hepatitis C
 – When she’s finally getting her children back from DSS custody
 – When her divorce is finalized
 – When he breaks her arm
 – When her son makes the honor roll
 – When her mother suddenly passes away
 – When she’s ready to file for an order of protection
 – When she needs to come into shelter for the sixth time

To her I am the person to whom she says, “I’ve never told anyone this before.”  I am called “family”, “mom”, “best friend”, but most importantly, I am her counselor. 

As a counselor in the shelter, I wear many hats, but ultimately, I am there for victims of domestic violence when they need help the most.  When a victim calls us for help, we spring to action, asking her questions, determining if she is safe in the moment to talk.  When she is accepted and told that there is space for herself and her children at Safe Harbor, the relief is instantly noticeable in her voice.  Whether she arrives at 3 pm or 2 am, she is welcomed into the safest place she’s been in a long time.  We provide her with food, a roof over her head, and warm place to sleep but mostly, we assure her she is safe.  Her children are safe, and they can rest. 

Then the process of starting over begins.  She meets with her counselor within the first seventy-two hours to fully assess her situation and to set goals that she wants to work on during her stay at the shelter and beyond.  These goals are varied; they can be obtaining housing, employment, GED, daycare for her children, clothing, medical help, legal assistance, sexual trauma counseling, DSS benefits (food stamps, family independence, Medicaid) etc. 

We advocate for our clients when they need help accessing services, and we teach them how to advocate for themselves.  This commitment to helping and guiding our clients does not end at 5 pm; we don’t leave until the job is done.  There is a counselor on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  We are available as back-up to our night and weekend staff, to staff crisis calls, as well as handle any crisis that may arise.         

Safe Harbor offers both individual and group counseling relating to domestic violence.  We offer a domestic violence education group that covers topics such as warning signs of domestic violence (red flags), self-care, self-esteem building, barriers to leaving, the cycle of violence, etc.  We also have a support group that is more of an open sharing group.  The women are able to bond and relate with each other during group, ultimately realizing that they are not alone.  

We follow a voluntary services model which means all of our services are voluntary.  The clients are not mandated to meet with us or attend groups.  This model gives the women the freedom to make their own choices and encourages independence.  While it is beneficial for them to come to group and meet with their counselor, we cannot force them to get help.  They have to be ready to get help. When they are ready, we are there. 

We rely heavily on community involvement. We have dedicated volunteers who lead parenting classes, watch the children to give the moms a break, to do makeovers, to teach about breast health, to teach about financial independence, and to have holiday parties for our families providing some semblance of “normal” in their lives.

We are somewhat always in crisis mode.  We have to be ready to handle anything and everything.  Often times we come to work expecting to be able to accomplish a “to-do list,” but in reality many days there are little and big crises that have to be handled, and we may not even turn on our computers.       

We don’t tell our clients what to do; we guide them through the process.  We encourage them to make decisions sometimes for the first time, and, like proud mamma’s, we share excitement when they succeed and give comfort when they struggle.  We are privileged to be their guardian angels for this time of their lives.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Claire, that’s wonderful summary of an obviously very busy service of loving care for those in need. You, your counselors, staff, and volunteers are a dedicated lot with an admirable level of compassion, patience, wisdom, and love. Thank you for serving, even when those whom you serve may not appreciate the energy, attention, and hours you give to them. Often people in such arena of service work in ways that are not readily observed by others. As someone said wisely, “character is what you are and do when no one is watching.” Thank you for enlightening us to a valuable and often unsung labor of love that makes a big difference in people’s lives.

  2. Claire, Great article! I am forwarding it to Ashley since this is her major. She begins her internship with My Sister’s House next semester. She hopes to do exactly what you are doing upon graduation. Thanks for the inspiration!
    Aunt Ginny

  3. Thanks for what you and your organization are doing. Have a merry Christmas! Love from the other Claire Bennett.

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