Year : 2018 | Volume
: 16 | Issue : 3 | Page : 276--277
Starting as a counsellor
Assistant Professor, Counseling Department, Kabul University, Kabul, Afghanistan
Assistant Professor and Counsellor, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Science, Kabul University, Kabul
Girls living in juvenile rehabilitation centres, especially as a consequence of escaping from home or sexual contact, can be difficult to engage in counselling sessions. Often, this can be related to the idea that help seeking from a psychologist or counsellor is equivalent to being labelled as ‘crazy’. Added to that is the belief that family secrets must stay at home, so girls feel uncomfortable speaking about their problems. As a result, counsellors’ attempts may lead to failure. This personal reflection shows the author’s first experiences working with clients. It suggests using simple contextual methods (such as handicrafts or storytelling) to begin a therapeutic relationship, using group counselling versus individual counselling and engaging family members to solve honour issues.
|How to cite this article:|
Akbari S. Starting as a counsellor.Intervention 2018;16:276-277
|How to cite this URL:|
Akbari S. Starting as a counsellor. Intervention [serial online] 2018 [cited 2020 Jan 29 ];16:276-277
Available from: http://www.interventionjournal.org/text.asp?2018/16/3/276/246430
Love and honour
One of my first clients in the juvenile rehabilitation centre (JRC) was Muzhgan, a girl of 16. Although she suffered from nightmares and sleeping problems, she was reluctant to visit me at first. The girls in the JRC felt that going to see a psychologist was proof that you were ‘crazy’. However, in the end, she came and told me what was bothering her. ‘I am tired and have no energy left to even move. Believe me this is not the life I wanted. I was going to school every day, I had good friends, but now I am here and my family has cut me off completely. I don’t matter to them anymore. They just think about themselves and their honour’.
Muzhgan was placed in the JRC because she had romantic feelings for a boy and secretly went out with him a few times. The last time they were on a date, they were both arrested by the police. That night they had to stay in the police station. The next morning their parents arrived and started arguing. Muzhgan’s father claimed that the boy had had sexual contact with her, which was not true, she was still a virgin. Regardless, her father filed a case against the boy and both were sent to the JRC. For 3 months, no one from her family came to visit her.
According to her father, Muzhgan had destroyed his reputation. ‘If I take her home’, he said, ‘they will kill her. Since this has happened, our relatives and friends make fun of us. We have no other way [forward] than cutting her out. She is no longer our daughter’. According to her boyfriend’s parents, their son was the victim. They said that Muzhgan’s parents had offered to withdraw their complaint if their son would marry Muzhgan, but ‘we don’t want to have such a daughter-in-law at all. How can we live among our neighbours and relatives? How can we show her to them?’.
Muzhgan was nervous about the virginity test she had to endure. She felt angry, sad and worthless and spoke about killing herself.
There were many Muzhgans in JRC. Most of them had families who didn’t meet their daughters…as if cutting off was the only way to protect honour. But girls waited for the members of their family.
After many discussions with the girls, families and JRC’s staff, we found that psychosocial programmes should focus on reduction of loneliness, isolation and self-blame, and increase effective communication between the girls and their family members. Although we recognised that we faced a variety of barriers in conducting psychosocial programmes, we felt could conduct some of them.
Working with the girls at the jRC
The JRC project has been designed to provide psychosocial and legal services. Among the staff members was a lawyer who dealt with the legal issues and a psychologist providing psychosocial support. When I started working in the girl’s ward, I and my colleague were expected to offer individual counselling sessions. However, most girls would not attend the (invited) individual sessions. One of the clients told me, ‘since you came and visited me, everyone is calling me crazy! You’ve made our problems even bigger’. Then we offered group sessions, but that did not work either. It appeared that they did not trust us, which made it very difficult to create a therapeutic relationship with the girls.
We then decided to join the girls in the only activity organised for them in the JRC: sitting in a circle, doing handicrafts, storytelling and listening. They taught us to do handicrafts and slowly brought us into their world. In this way, we slowly built contact.
After that, we started group sessions that included all kind of playful activities, not only talking. It became clear that the JRC girls were quite suspicious and disrespectful towards one another. They often referred to each other with abusive words. So, we addressed that in the first session. Together with the participants, we worked out group rules that would make the group a secure environment. Therefore, one rule was, ‘we should call each other by our names’.
During group sessions, we used physical exercises and games as energisers. We avoided activities that included writing as most of the girls were unable to read and write. Also, to increase the capacity for empathy among the participants, we stimulated their attention to feelings. For example, one girl had to using emotion-cards or pantomime to express her feelings, while the rest of group had to guess what feeling was that she expressed.
Usually, group conversations were started by asking questions such as, ‘what is the best thing that happened to you today? What was the worst thing happened to you today? What have you learnt today?’. In the beginning, most girls tended to speak about the past and blame themselves or their families, but responses began to slowly change to good things that had happened. For example, one pregnant girl said, ‘I am happy, because Sara helped me to change my clothes today’. Therefore, it became clear that these questions helped them to be in the present and reminded them of positive behaviours. At the end of the sessions, we collected all good things and learning points together as achievements and put them on the board, so they could see positive and learning points every day.
Working with the family
It took 3 months for Muzhgan’s family to come to the centre. Because JRC has no social workers, we asked one of the administrative staff members to visit the family, but he was not welcome. Later, a colleague who spoke the same language and belonged to the same ethnic and religious group went to visit them. He was able to win their trust. As a result, we were able to eventually bring them to the centre.
The main concern for parents was to keep what had happened a secret. They were very much afraid of what other people would think and say. They wanted to file a case against the boy, to have a virginity test and rebuild their reputation. I felt that I should acknowledge their positive intention to protect their daughter’s reputation, because they were worried about the future, even when placement within the JRC had been extremely painful for Muzhgan. In this way, I was able to demonstrate understanding for their side of the story, without affirming the way they had treated their daughter. After that intervention, the parents appeared to feel understood and more secure, instead of feeling threatened. Finally, they agreed to come and meet Muzhgan, as the JRC was not a threatening place for them or to their reputation.
What I learned
When I started working at the JRC, I just had graduated from university. I had been taught to start contact with clients by looking for abnormalities and disorders, to make a diagnosis. However, making a diagnosis did not help me to provide helpful interventions. It was then that I had the idea of joining the girls’ handicrafts activity. I sat on the ground with them and let them teach me. That way I was able to make contact and build a therapeutic relationship.
Only then could I start group counselling sessions, and our intervention became helpful.
I learnt that the girls in the JRC trusted each other with difficulty. So, a counsellor should use simple techniques and skills based on context and that interventions should include activities and skills to help them to interact with each other.
In addition, most families that have a member in JRC usually avoid visiting, because they worry about their reputation and the judgment of others, so it was threatening to them. Therefore, families needed psychosocial support from JRC’s counsellors.
Finally, working with the girls in the JRC should contain programmes to support them in JRC, provide skills to live in and out of JRC, support of families and to build capacity of JRC’s staff. In this way, we can support juveniles and families within a supportive circle.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.