A lov­ing space for ev­ery­one

Free coun­selling chang­ing lives in Rocky

The Morning Bulletin - - NEWS - MICHELLE GATELY michelle.gately@cap­news.com.au

A FEW years ago, Belinda sat in­side her house with the cur­tains drawn, re­peat­edly con­tem­plat­ing how she could end it all.

But in the space of months, her life is al­most un­recog­nis­able.

Now Belinda, whose last name we have omit­ted for pri­vacy rea­sons, says she has re­claimed her life and is once again liv­ing it to the fullest with­out fear and anx­i­ety caused by his­toric sex­ual abuse.

Belinda spoke to The Morn­ing Bul­letin dur­ing Sex­ual Vi­o­lence Aware­ness Month, ea­ger to ex­plain that help from lo­cal ser­vices was what had changed her spi­ral of men­tal health is­sues.

“I went through lots of places ... and they didn’t help me at all,” she said. “I strug­gled with self-harm and a whole heap of things.”

Then Belinda found the Women’s Health Cen­tre on Bolsover St and was re­ferred to its free sex­ual as­sault sup­port ser­vice.

Open to men and women

of all ages, the ser­vice is all about cre­at­ing a safe space where clients never feel pres­sure to of­fi­cially re­port any in­stances of abuse they’ve ex­pe­ri­enced.

“I came to women’s health and I was re­ally scared. Hon­estly, I was a mess,” Belinda said.

“But I found it was the best place. It has made me so much bet­ter.”

Coun­sel­lor Ali­cia Har­ris, Belinda’s key sup­port, said the cen­tre was all about un­der­stand­ing what leads to cri­sis and pre­vent­ing it from hap­pen­ing in the fu­ture.

In com­par­i­son, other pub­lic men­tal health ser­vices may only have the re­sources to deal with peo­ple in the midst of that cri­sis.

“Women’s health has

re­ally been there,” Belinda said. “And not just Ali­cia. Ev­ery­one here has made me feel so wel­come.

“I don’t trust very easy, but this is my safe place.

“If I feel like I’m in dan­ger of hurt­ing my­self, I will think ‘okay, where do I go?’ and I’ll come here.

“And I’ll just sit, just sit in the front, just sit there and then I’ll just get my­self to­gether and then I’m right to go again.”

Aside from the free coun­selling, Belinda has taken ad­van­tage of the other com­mu­nity classes of­fered at the cen­tre, in­clud­ing yoga and craft groups.

The yoga and med­i­ta­tion classes have been of par­tic­u­lar help, with Belinda ex­plain­ing the tech­niques helped her to re­lieve the

stress of the week.

It’s one of the first places Belinda has felt em­braced in a long time.

“It’s so laid back and so non-judge­men­tal that you just feel so wel­come and you feel like ac­tu­ally loved,” she said. “I haven’t had a lot of love in my life and I feel like it’s a lov­ing place to be.”

For Belinda, and many oth­ers who use the cen­tre, hav­ing the courage to ask for help is some­times the hard­est step to take.

“You think ‘am I go­ing to be judged’?” Belinda said.

“The things I have told women’s health, I have never told any­one else.

“It makes me feel so good. It makes me feel like I’m liv­ing my life again.

“Be­cause be­fore I just didn’t have a life and now I get to go to arts and craft, and I get to go to yoga and I get to come here and I get to see the ladies. I love it.”

Ali­cia said clients were never pres­sured to re­port any abuse, but would be fully sup­ported if they chose to do so.

“It’s so im­por­tant to have a safe space and some­times it’s not even so much about the ther­apy, that comes in time,” she said.

“It’s more about the rap­port you build up with the in­di­vid­ual.

“If they can’t trust you, if they don’t feel safe noth­ing good can come from it.

“So it is also about not feel­ing judged, be­ing be­lieved is huge I think.

“There’s no pres­sure to re­port things to po­lice be­cause that’s not for some peo­ple. It’s re­ally driven by the client as to what they want to get out of the ses­sion, which I think is im­por­tant.”

PHOTO: CHRIS ISON ROK051017CCOUNSELLOR1

NEW BEGIN­NINGS: Women's Health Cen­tre coun­cil­lor Ali­cia Har­ris with Belinda.

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