This past week I had the pleasure of speaking with Rebecca Roberts. Rebecca is a crisis therapist and currently works as a full-time counsellor here in Canada. Originally, Rebecca got involved with gender-based violence initiatives with WOW in Malawi after hearing Theresa Malila speak. Theresa highlighted how a current rape crisis was negatively impacting the communities they support. After speaking with Rebecca, Theresa invited her to Malawi to meet with her team of volunteers and to learn from those who were directly impacted by gender-based violence.

During her time in Malawi, Rebecca had discussions with Theresa regarding the gaps in accessibility volunteers face when it comes to available services and resources to help support individuals who have undergone trauma. Rebecca explained that here in Canada as therapists and counsellors, individuals are given the opportunity to frequently attend workshops to stay up to date once they enter the field. This, however, is not the case for the hard-working women she had the pleasure of meeting in many communities within Malawi.

When Rebecca returned to Canada, God had placed it on her heart to partner with Theresa in the development of resources for volunteers in the field. They wished to collaboratively develop a system of support to ensure that volunteers could continue to be effective support networks within local communities for those who have endured trauma. She began to talk with friends who were social workers, counsellors and therapists here at home. Through these conversations, a team of six women was formed. Originally, this team was to travel to Malawi and Zambia in the summer of 2016 to train a small group of individuals who would then be responsible for facilitating the training of other gender-based violence counsellors. However, this team was going to extend their workshops much further then what they initially expected.

In the year prior to travelling to Malawi and Zambia, this team worked together to develop curriculum which came to be known as “The Building Blocks of Trauma Counselling”. The curriculum they developed included a handbook for volunteers and a handbook for those who had faced gender based violence which would be distributed and used as a resource during their workshops.

Upon arriving in Malawi, the team of six facilitated a five-day training on the property of the Home of Mercy. While initially the training was intended to be delivered to five individuals, approximately 115 Home-Based Care workers and Gender-Based Violence counselors also attended. Initially, the objective of these sessions was to provide future trainers and volunteers with skills and tools that would help them support others in their journey of healing. However, Rebecca shared that it became so much more than that. As the team walked the attendees through the curriculum, Rebecca explained that the healing that took place among those in attendance was incredible. In the first day of training, the team discussed the importance of healing our own wounds prior to supporting others. Volunteers began sharing stories about their own experiences openly and had the opportunity to pray over one another.

Following their time in Malawi, the team travelled to Zambia to facilitate similar training for our partner’s volunteers. In Zambia, the team shortened their training to four days in order that they could facilitate a one-day training session in a remote community with a different team of volunteers. About 140 volunteers received training in Zambia.

Rebecca explained that people were so hungry to learn and hear what the team had to share. Volunteers were given group activities throughout the workshops to put into practice the concepts they were learning in the sessions. They approached every activity with excellence and often used dance and song to beautifully demonstrate their understanding to the rest of the group.

The team was incredibly pleased by the response they received from their training workshops. While the work volunteers carry out in Malawi and Zambia on a daily basis is tremendously difficult, it is absolutely crucial. The team felt honoured to be able to support these women and the ministries they stand behind. In both Zambia and Malawi, the team provided our partners with ten volunteer manuals and three hundred client manuals. After returning to Canada, the manuals that the team developed were being translated into local dialects in order that more individuals could benefit from the resources that were created.

The Building Blocks of Trauma Counselling Handbook Overview

The curriculum developed paralleled images of a hut and highlighted three critical components of the journey of counselling. The foundation of the hut represented the counselling relationship, the walls of the hut symbolized the counselling process and the roof represented the trauma skills.

The counselling relationship consists of three parts: God, the counsellor and the client. This visual, which demonstrated the interrelatedness of all three important parts, starting with the counselling relationship, was developed to help individuals make the connection that just like the hut they too need a strong foundation. A strong, trusting relationship between the counsellor and client is what holds up the counselling process. Here is a picture of the idea that was brainstormed off an image that the Lord had given Rebecca.

After a discussion surrounding the counselling relationship came a discussion surrounding the walls of the hut which symbolized the counselling process. The three phases of counselling that the manual guides clients through include exploration, insight and action. Finally, the roof of the “Counselling Hut” symbolized the trauma skills that are incorporated into trauma treatment with clients. The three phases of trauma skills that were introduced include safety/stabilization, reprocessing/remembering and reconnection/integration. Over the course of the five-day training workshops, the team worked to focus on every layer of this hut individually as a means to provide volunteers with tools and strategies to allow them to replicate the training for other communities moving forward.