Our Counsellor Advocate Model

From Rebuilding Shattered Lives (2nd Ed.) by Dr Ida Kaplan:

The term ‘counsellor-advocate’ is used at Foundation House to describe the position held by counsellors who work directly with clients. This term was coined by Wendy Weeks (Gilmore, 2005) to describe the practice of a rights-based model for those who had been subjected to sexual violence.

Foundation House considered the term apt in applying it to the human rights abuses perpetrated and sanctioned by the instruments of the state. The counsellor-advocate title also acts as a shorthand for the adoption of a trauma recovery framework, which looks at interventions for the individual, family and community from a systems perspective.

As described in Spirit is stronger than force (VFST, 1993), the counsellor-advocate model is important when working with survivors:

The torture experience and sequelae will often inhibit the survivor from approaching and utilizing many essential services. The role of the counsellor-advocate must be to ensure that individuals and families develop the skill and confidence to use these services themselves. Many of the services available to individuals and families are not used. Others fail because of their lack of sensitivity, cultural understanding or language services and because of their relationship to government authorities. The advocacy role provides a safety net, ensuring that survivors of torture do not ‘fall through the gaps’ in health and welfare systems.

Co-ordinating a plan of assistance will almost always involve contact and co-operation with professionals from other services. The counsellor-advocate will in the majority of cases be central to this process or at least will act in a consultative capacity. The benefits of linking to a broad range of community and health agencies can be extensive, the most obvious of which is that survivors receive maximum assistance from the full range of expertise available. Also, contact with other agencies will serve to educate and sensitize these agencies to the needs of survivors of torture. (pp. 20–21)

Some service providers may feel that some aspects or tasks involved in advocacy (such as facilitated referral or accompanied appointments) are practical and less central to recovery goals. However, what appears to be practical support can be the basis for engagement and, as mentioned in the example above, can form the basis for trust.

A practical need when analysed can reveal a psychological issue

When a survivor says, ‘I want a job’, this can actually mean ‘I am failing to get a job because the thoughts in my head do not stop.’ On the other hand, it may mean precisely that employment assistance is required. It is important to recognise that some encounters are transactional, but still consistent with achieving recovery goals.

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