An interview with our amazing counsellor, Bonny!
This is the second in our two-part blog series on the importance of therapeutic support for women who have experienced sexual exploitation. You can read part one by Co-Founder Jenny, who oversees our counselling provision here.
In this post, we interviewed our amazing counsellor Bonny. We are so grateful to have Bonny on our team and for all she brings.
You do counselling in different safe house settings with women who have experienced sexual exploitation. How did you get into that?
God led me to it really. I had a Psychology Bachelor degree. Even as a teenager I was very interested into the cognitive behavioural mysteries of humanity. I realised psychology wasn’t really my thing, it’s too scientific and cold. I wanted to do something with more human contact.
I went on a mission trip to Thailand- we were in the red-light district of Bangkok. Many women there are trafficked into strip clubs, in the sex trade. I had one-to-one contact with a woman there that changed my life – she was the same age, same height as me. I thought “this could be me”. Her body was stone cold – she was barely wearing anything in this air-conditioned strip club. Before the team left the club, I was giving her a hug and she whispered “can you help me?” It was like a shock to my world. I said to God “please use me! I want to serve women or men who are trapped in the sex trade.”
From that prayer, God led me to study art therapy to serve that group and to bring healing.
What have you seen to be the emotional and psychological/ behavioural impact of sexual exploitation?
Extremely low self-worth, self-hatred. Because a lot of them internalise the abuse they’ve experienced. To make sense of the horror or evil done to them, they attribute it to there being something wrong with them. They get very numb emotionally. The survival mechanism is to shut down and suppress their genuine self. If they show more vulnerability and weakness they would be taken advantage of even more. If they appear stronger there’s a higher chance of surviving. They experience physical illnesses too, chronic fatigue, pain. Afterwards, overeating is very common to cope with the pain- they subconsciously stop looking after themselves- if they look less attractive they are less in danger. They might avoid looking in the mirror. They find it hard to trust people. It’s extremely hard for them to open up and admit there’s a lot of anger and grief stored inside. It takes a long time to open up to a counsellor. So, I always try to build trust first with new clients.
What impact do you think counselling can make?
I’ve seen improvement in all of the things I’ve just said. It is possible for women to believe they are not a mistake, that their life is as valuable as mine. That they have a purpose and their experience does not define them, how they see themselves or others. They often start off with a very critical eye towards themselves or others. I’ve witnessed how women are able to socially find confidence again with people, including with the opposite sex, which is what they struggle with initially. They are able to be creative and imaginative, which is something which gets shut down by trauma. In art therapy, women are encouraged to play, to be willing to take risks, not punishing themselves if they get something ‘wrong’. They are able to be creative and look to the future. Lots wouldn’t even want to live another day. When someone wants to talk about the future, it’s a really good sign they do want to live and the world has something good to offer them too.
What do you love about counselling?
One of the greatest privileges is to be able to sit with someone in a private and sacred space, share with them in their pain. I can look them in the eye and even if I haven’t got a magic power to “fix it” in the moment, I have found that sharing of pain to be really appreciated by client. When listening to what really happened, especially when we have an art object between us, even if it’s ugly and painful that thing becomes beautiful, because it’s true and honest. Also, I personally I always prefer connecting with smaller groups of people. Being one-on-one is my favourite way of connecting. My preferred way is to have an intimate, confidential and safe relationship to work through.
What have you found to be the challenges?
When I really ache for change to happen, yet I can only ever do so much. When I first started working, I felt very inadequate. “Did I do enough?” I often feel like what am I giving is not enough. There’s a lot of self-reflection and self-supervision. You are co-creating and co-labouring with another human being and anything can happen in the next minute, depending on how the interaction goes. There are no formulas, which is terrifying but it’s also what attracts me to the work. I love that every session is different and I’m witnessing transformation of life. Even if it’s just a small chapter of someone’s life, even if the difference is small on grand scheme of things. If a person leaves therapy having changed or gone further along the way to becoming the person they wanted to be, that for me is really precious.
We are all having to adapt to Covid-19. How is that working for your counselling sessions?
I am working online- I video call my clients from my home. I was concerned about it initially because I use certain mediums, but I can’t do that. I was encouraged by my supervisor when she told me that doing online counselling is not less effective than face-to-face. Even though I’m losing something I value so much – being face-to-face with someone in a room. I’ve been doing it for a week now and so far so good! It doesn’t feel as limiting. I’m thankful that my clients are all willing to give it a go and evaluate and see if it’s still working for them.
What are your hopes for this sector- what would you like to see being provided for women you have come across?
Aside from basic needs and safety, accommodation and food, I would love that all of them would be able to dream about what they want for their lives and be equipped to achieve that dream. My hope is that they wouldn’t feel they are limited in any way. That there are opportunities to learn a skill and employers who would open the door. If English is not their first language, they can learn it, then study and go to uni and do all the wonderful things they want to do. Many when you ask in the beginning don’t know what they want to do. Either say what their family do in their home country, even if not their dream or talent. But they’ve never been asked the question “what do you actually want to do?” I would love to see them find their purposes in life and be empowered to make those aspirations a reality.