Forums 2020-2021 India Narrative Therapy and Community Work Training Program Forum A Reflection on Thinking Behind Practice (10)

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    Kasturi Chetia

    A Reflection on Thinking Behind Practice – Post structuralism, Culture, Individualism (10)

    “I’m not a victim of rape, I’m a survivor” said a twenty-one-year-old woman recently in her first therapy session with me. As soon as I heard the word “rape”, it made me feel a hundred things at once, but mostly made me spiral back to the dominant narrative attached to it – trauma, anchorless and helpless. It took me a few seconds to really hear what my client had just said. She told me that her intention to be in therapy was that she wanted to create a space for herself to heal through this trauma.

    Together, we charted out many impacts of the traumatic experience she had been through from a year ago. She expressed how terribly hard it was for her and how it made her feel miserable in so many ways. How it took every muscle in her body to share about the incident with her family and friends, the reality of that day, flashbacks that came uninvited, the fears that came after it, the sudden mood swings and mostly the pain of what she had survived.

    She candidly spoke about how she didn’t want to talk much about the ‘rapist’ because “that would mean giving him power over my life again and I didn’t want that”. Instead, we had many conversations about how she responded and resisted to it. We traced her responses, skills, knowledge, values and many acts of resistance. She spoke about the support her family and friends have been showing to her since the past year and, how it has helped her deal with the many impacts of the incident. Our intention is to move closer towards her hopes and dreams for herself.

    We were able to make room in order to see the incident as societal and not personal; we would spend sessions talking about the rape culture – where it comes from and how power dynamics come into place here. She mentioned that “one of my distant relatives had recently told me, “You don’t look like you’ve been raped”. We discussed if we all have a pre-conceived idea of what a survivor should look like, why do we need to conform to a societal idea of ‘victimhood’ and self-pity’, and why can’t we heal within our own created space and time? In our recent sessions, we’ve been brainstorming ways in which we can document her journey as a survivor with the intention that this is done to assist other individuals with similar experiences. Helping those who face loneliness and feel unheard, to experience a sense of solidarity, personal agency and a sense of being understood as well as supported.

    While I write this reflection, I’m wondering what my role as a therapist was here? I have spent years trying to fit into the cage of norms created for psychologists to follow. And here I am now trying to uncage myself all over again.

    I think it’s a job well done when sessions with this young woman have not been about ‘processing’ this event, not been about repeated re-telling of the incident or coming to terms with trauma and ‘letting go’. We didn’t peel any layers to find any core/inner self. Instead, we held onto discovering her narratives of resilience, vigor, values, choices and new commitments. This young survivor of rape now has a creation and collection of richer accounts of her life, there is focus on her many identities and richer stories, she has become aware of different skills and knowledges available to her. She has a voice, her own voice, but most importantly we’ve created a position for her to become an advocate of her own life.

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