Wednesday, 30 June 2021 00:00

The Rowan Project

Written by  Leigh Doran
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The Rowan Project

The Rowan Project launched in February 2021 to offer free counselling and support for survivors of sexual abuse in the Breckland area. Anyone over 16 of any gender who has experienced sexual assault, abuse or violence in their lives – both recently or in childhood – can contact the Rowan Project and talk to one of their counsellors in a safe environment.  

The charity is a new branch of the Daisy Programme which has supported survivors of domestic abuse for over six years developing a trauma based and client-centred approach. The team at Daisy saw an urgent need for more specialist support for sexual abuse, hiring specialised counsellors who have experience and training in this field.

“We believe that people should not be defined by the trauma they have experienced,” says Leigh Doran, Programme Director at the Rowan Project. “Every person is unique and different as is their experience of abuse, and we believe that with the right support every person has the potential to develop their personal strengths and rebuild their lives.”

Since the Rowan Project launched in February 2021 they have built a large client base, some of whom have never spoke about their experience until their first one-to-one counselling session. However, they have managed to keep their waiting list lower by delivering a targeted and evidence-based service in up to 18 sessions. 

Clients can contact the Rowan Project themselves and speak to someone to see if counselling is something they feel will help and if they are ready to talk about their issues. They may also be referred via local services, such The Harbour Centre, social and wellbeing services, GPs, hospitals and Victim Support. 

Rowan counsellors initially saw clients online though Zoom or telephone due to COVID restrictions. Although the future of the pandemic remains uncertain, they are now able to offer face-to-face sessions with safety protocols in place in large clean rooms at their hub in Watton. They continue to work on Zoom with clients who struggle to get to their hub or have health issues. 

“We have to be flexible in these difficult times,” says Leigh Doran “As this is also a time when our service is most needed. The important thing is that our clients feel safe and supported and know that they don’t have to suffer or struggle alone.”

Why is the service needed?

In the news recently government ministers have apologised to survivors of rape who have been failed by the justice system, in particular the crown prosecution service and police. Ministers admitted to feeling “deeply ashamed” and have pledged an overhaul to increase convictions.

“Charities such as The Rowan Project were not shocked by the level of this failure, since we see the effects of it every day in the people we support.” “The majority of our clients have never reported at all since they know it’s a traumatic and challenging process, or because they were children when it happened to them and feared they wouldn’t be believed. The figures are disturbing, but also conversative since so much sexual abuse is never spoken about.”

The 2017 Crime Survey for England and Wales estimated that 20 percent of women and 4 percent of men have experienced sexual assault, with only 15 percent reporting to the police. NSPCC research estimates that 1 in 20 children have been sexually abused. 

“One of the reasons is that talking about their experience is incredibly hard for survivors and can be re-traumatising, whether it happened that day or decades ago, there is a fear they won’t be believed or will somehow be blamed, or that the perpetrator will harm them for speaking out. 

This means that lots of people are living with the effects of their experience without support or understanding. Our aim is to enable people to be able to tell their story if they choose to, without it being re-traumatising or defining who they are; to break the stigma around rape, sexual abuse and sexual trauma. Too many wonderful people are left to suffer in silence, their lives and self-esteem deeply affected, while the real criminals know they can get away with it.”

What is specialised counselling?

Sexual abuse can have damaging psychological effects that in some cases last many years, which is why the Rowan Project believes specialised counselling with experienced counsellors is so important to their recovery. Some clients bury what happened and continue living a ‘normal’ life for years before they decide to seek help. 

They may suffer with anxiety, depression, substance misuse, self-harm, relationship problems, difficult emotions as well as the symptoms of PTSD without knowing the cause, which can be frightening. 

“Clients often blame themselves, thinking they simply aren’t good at life, when in fact they have adapted to survive the violent behaviour of others,” says one of the Rowan Project Counsellors.

The counsellors at Rowan have had many years of training and experience working with survivors of sexual abuse. Many have previously worked for Rape Crisis, Sue Lambert and CARA. They have created a person-centred, strengths-based and trauma-informed approach adapted to each individual client.

“The aim is to empower their clients to cope with difficult emotions, intrusive critical thoughts and relationship problems they are having now,” says Leigh Doran. “These difficulties invariably stem from what happened, which has such a huge impact on how someone views the world and how they need to keep themselves safe. 

“Understanding how our brains adapt to violent and terrifying situations helps clients understand themselves better and eventually feel less controlled by the past. Clients are equipped to deal with triggers so that they can continue to heal themselves beyond counselling. We want our clients to discover who they really are beyond their trauma and take control of their lives.”

But does it work?

“It’s early days, but regular assessments show a marked improvement in over 80 percent of clients, while client feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Leigh Doran, Programme Director.

“My counsellor was honestly just wonderful. I felt like I could open up to her without the fear of being judged. She really listens and remembers things I had said from previous sessions. Very warm and comforting person. I am quite sad that I won’t see her again. But I am glad she was able to help me process some things”.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 30 June 2021 18:02

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