Counsellor experiences

Unless there are urgent medical needs such as critical injuries, providing psychological support to victims of sexual violence without delay is a priority for Médecins Sans Frontières staff. The patient needs to be able to speak confidentially and share their burden in an environment of trust. Appropriate psychological support and comfort at this early stage can aid a victim’s recovery.

For many patients it can be a slow process to be able to reveal what has happened—each patient is different.  Depending on the size and context of the project this support will be provided by a counsellor, or a nurse or doctor. These staff need to balance listening, gathering information, examining, advising and reassuring. Ideally they will be able to provide follow-up and continuity of care. But for many reasons patients may only attend the clinic once, so it is important to offer as much support as possible in the one visit.

In our projects it is typically national staff who provide first-line medical and psychological care. Each brings knowledge of their community and their people to their work. Yet not surprisingly their work can weigh heavily. They may be shocked by the extent of sexual violence in their own community, or, simply, deeply affected by the individuals that they treat. To help them cope, Médecins Sans Frontières provides professional support in regular group and one-on-one sessions.

Below, our staff share their experiences and perspectives on the effects of sexual violence, and their role providing care.