TAKING THE FIRST STEPS
Heartfelt House’s core program is called Taking the First Steps. It is a non-residential, group program for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse using a range of approaches including psycho- educational, feminist and cognitive behavioural theory. The group meets weekly for 2 hours each session and the duration of the program is 18 weeks. It is structured to encompass two school terms, with a two week holiday break, allowing those who care for children to be available for them.
The program is presented by a team of three facilitators. Two facilitators have degrees in counselling, psychology, and/or social work and the third facilitator is a survivor who has participated in a previous program. All facilitators at Heartfelt House have received additional, specialised training through the Educational Centre Against Violence, Sydney and other training organisations.
Each group consists of six participants of the same gender from all walks of life. Each group of survivors and each team of facilitators bring with them unique requirements and distinctive skills, which will be considered and incorporated in the presentation of the program.
“Taking the First Steps” is an ‘organic’ program which allows for flexibility to meet the specific characteristics and needs of each group. It is designed to create awareness, give information, and explore thoughts, behaviours and feelings related to the trauma of the sexual abuse in the past and how it influences participants’ lives today. We incorporate a range of techniques and materials to allow for verbal and non- verbal exploration.
It is structured into the following stages:
- Weeks 1-7 focus on the past by looking at each participant’s experience of sexual abuse, the environment in which it took place and some of the physical effects they encountered. Survivors are invited to share their experience – often for the first time. This is facilitated in a clear framework, ensuring safety of all involved. In the post-program evaluation the majority of participants have stated that this was one of the most valuable sections of the whole program; being invited to share their story in a safe environment and experience non- judgemental acceptance is often a liberating experience. We also inform about the strategies perpetrators apply to gain and maintain access to the victims and their environment, resulting in the realisation for survivors – often for the first time – that the abuse was not their fault and responsibility.
- Week 8-15 is centred on the present, helping survivors to identify the physical, emotional, mental and relational price they have paid to survive the abuse. It aims to raise awareness of how the sexual abuse has affected their feelings, beliefs and thought patterns, and the resulting behaviours and coping mechanisms. There are many wonderful moments in the group session, when participants realise how a behaviour that was “normal” for them is linked to the abuse and that they now have the power to make other choices.
- Week 15-18 of the program explores possibilities for the future; it is skill oriented (eg. setting clear boundaries, goal setting, relationships with self and others), therefore consolidating the growth that survivors have experienced in the previous 15 weeks. Every week participants receive preparation for the following session, this enables them to familiarise themselves with the topic and explore it a deeper level should they so wish.
Throughout the program, each group member receives a weekly phone call from one of the trained facilitators to check-in and answer questions regarding the program or the group session. It is mandatory for all “Taking the First Steps” participants to attend individual face to face counselling externally to Heartfelt House as additional support. We offer information that will enable the participant to arrange counselling with professional counsellors and psychologists in the local area. Furthermore participants frequently form close friendships with other members in the group and start reaching out to each other for support.
After the completion of the 18 week program participants are invited to return for 2 meetings over the following 6 months. These act as a group reunion, to re-connect and sometimes as a reminder of all they have learnt and achieved. Additionally we also offer 2 ‘coffee & cake’ afternoons during the year to which every past participant is invited, offering the opportunity to meet, reflect on what has happened and also to make new friends.
For further information, please contact Heartfelt House during office hours, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays between 9am and 3pm on 02 6628 8940.