Summa - 'Stopping Violence' Clinician

After having the kids it was hard coming back to work. I had all sorts of questions. If I stay out of work too long, what will happen? After all that time off, how will it be? I was lucky enough to ease back into things by going part-time.

When I worked at a law firm before having kids I saw it was a real struggle for female lawyers to work their way up the career ladder. If they didn’t do twelve hour days, they didn’t get anywhere. That’s the way things are for them - it’s one or the other - kids or a high powered job. For me, it’s important to have a balance. Until my kids are older, I won’t increase my hours. They keep me busy with sport and school anyway.

My official job title is Clinician. I facilitate groups for Stopping Violence Services. We have a set program that we follow; twelve weeks for an individual or fifteen weeks for a group. I never, not even close, thought I would end up in this sort of job.

It actually took me a really long time to get my head around what domestic violence is about. I was very naïve and thought if a woman is being abused she should just leave. What’s the problem? It took me a long time to figure out that it’s not that easy. It’s all much deeper.

I started working with women at the Women’s Refuge because mum worked there. I volunteered on their crisis line and admitted women into the safe house. After a while, I just felt like I was putting a band aid on the problem.

Someone has to help and I think we really do. Nothing is forced down anyone’s throat here. We offer something and if they want to pick it up for the sake of themselves, they can. It’s their choice. It’s really just supporting them through their experience of domestic violence and showing them some options. They have these problems because it’s what they’ve grown up with. Ninety-nine percent of them haven’t seen any other way of life. We’ve had four generations of a family sitting in this room. No one has managed to put a wedge in the cycle. It’s what they know and it’s really sad.

A lot of the people who come here aren’t ready, but if they take one tiny thing away with them, for me, that’s success. It’s a seed planted and hopefully it will grow. We do get that, they’ll come in and resist and think the program isn’t for them. Two months later, we’ll get a call and they want to talk. They’ve realised there’s a problem.

One day, our whole team went out to the prison for training. I got singled out by the prison officer who lead us. Basically, he looked down his nose at me. “What are you going to do?”, he asked me. He directed all the questions at me. When we walked out, everyone commented on it. “Whoa, you really got it given to you!” I thought about it. He was an older guy and he would’ve been wondering what one young girl could do. What business does she have in a prison? She’s going to be eaten alive. I think that’s small minded. These people might be in prison, but they’re people. They’re not animals. In hindsight, I found it funny. I’ve come to enjoy the challenge.

A lot of university students doing counselling or social work visit us. Even if they graduate, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be suited to the job. There’s a confidence you have to have to stand up in front of 20 people. You have to be able to look them in the eye and they have to believe what you’re saying. When I look at everyone who works here, there are only a couple who haven’t experienced domestic violence in their own homes. Unfortunately, I think it’s easier for people who have lived with it to work here. They have a deeper sense of empathy, having felt the effects themselves.

I grew up with both of my parents at home. My father was an alcoholic and he abused my mother. He was always really good to me, but in saying that, I lived in a bubble. A bubble where it was just me and I took care of myself. The silver lining is that I can actually tell my clients about my own childhood, what it felt like for me. Their children are in this position now and I’ve got a pretty good idea of what it feels like for them.

There are parts of the program where you need a man’s voice. The way I look at it, here’s a group of men who don’t actually like women. They’re all here because of something that has happened with a partner, or someone. In their eyes, it’s her fault. She’s to blame and the reason they’re there. If you put two women in front of the group, then they’ll react badly. They’ll think, here’s another woman telling me what I should do.

If you’ve got a male’s voice - one that’s pro-women and good at working in a team - then you’re modelling a respectful relationship between male and female. Going in with a real strict approach never works. It’s about taking the right tact and gaining their trust.

It’s all about our belief systems and how they are created, basically from the day we’re born. People learn from their parents. That’s a lot of what we do, challenging those beliefs that are so ingrained. Has this belief you’ve always held about women - about what their role in society is, in a relationship and what you expect from them - has it been helpful? Are you happy? Would you rather be right or happy? A 55 year old man might come in. He’s a scared child.

He’s been hurt and has never dealt with that hurt. Hurt people have a tendency to hurt people. But if we didn’t think people could change, this job wouldn’t exist.

It’s really difficult trying to explain my job description to my two boys. They don’t quite understand and they think it’s really unsafe. They always ask me if the police are there. They think that I’m working with people in prison. We recently visited the prison as a family and they thought it was a really scary and dangerous place. I’m trying to teach them that it isn’t. That prisoners are just people who have done something and that I’m trying to help and find a way to make it better. It’s hard to understand at their age, but in time it’ll make sense.

My hours are part time, so I can be at home when the kids finish school. My husband is a project manager for a construction company. He’s full time and really busy working long hours. Around work, I can keep on top of everything with the kids and with the home. It’s a good balance. My job had to fit in with my family or it wasn’t going to work.

On sick days, it can be difficult when I’m booked in with a client. If I’m not there, their program gets pushed out a week. In saying that, the clients quite like not having to come in. But if the kids are sick, they’re sick. Unless I have something really, really important on that I can’t miss, I stay at home to look after them. Or my husband stays home and he doesn’t have a problem with that. Then there’s all the sports teams our boys are involved in. They’re sport crazy, both play rugby and absolutely love it. We love going to watch them play. I manage my son’s basketball team, too. Sport is a big part of our family life.

I think when you work in an environment where you try to make other peoples’ families better, the company has to be lenient. A lot of social agencies put their employees’ families first. I think you work better and harder for the ones who want to support you and your family. There have been studies done on working mothers and it’s been found that it can be really good for the kids.

I guess the nuclear family stereotype is that mum stays at home and the dad is seen as the successful parent because he earns money. Our society places too much importance on money.  Mum could’ve worked, but she put her children first. She’s done the best by her children in a sense, but the kids might not see that. Society might not see that.

They might not see or remember mum doing the all the cleaning, cooking, and baking. At least, they might not really appreciate it. Sometimes it can feed into unhealthy beliefs that woman can’t or shouldn’t work. I hope we’re showing our kids something different to that; that we can both work and still be awesome parents.

How do I get into this career?

You have to have a strong interest in helping people to want to get into this sort of job:

- Try the Careers NZ website, the link will take you straight to more information about jobs in the health sector.

- You might like to follow up by emailing or visiting tertiary providers and asking them more about their courses.

- Another idea is to research local organisations you're interested in, call them, and ask if you can go in for a day or a week to see what the job is actually like. This will allow you to quickly figure out if this sort of job is for you. This is called 'informational interviewing' and there are some great online resources on how to approach this.