Counselling Survivors of Sexual Violence On- and Off-Line

Rape Crisis Network Ireland is pioneering, an innovative training programme for counselling survivors of sexual violence in a post-pandemic world. We know that practitioners have the knowledge and solutions from their practice, therefore, this project uses a co-creation model.

RCNI, VictimFocus and Rethink Ireland Logos

Called Counselling Survivors On- and Off-Line, this programme has emerged from the experience of the Covid-19 lockdown. Lockdown meant that Rape Crisis Centres had to be vacated, and trauma counselling services were forced to move on-line.

The new RCNI programme using at its core the rape crisis model of specialist sexual violence trauma responses, combines both critical research and training. It will gather evidence and understanding around the impact of dealing with the trauma of sexual violence in a pandemic world, and how practitioners have responded.

Input has been sought from both practitioners and survivors; in the form of separate, anonymous, surveys. These surveys were accessible through this website and disseminated widely. Both are now complete.

In this project we invited the engagement of all counsellors and psychotherapists; whether they worked in organisations, or in private practice.

It was also open to student counsellors on work placements, and those pursuing accreditation.

Participants were be given the opportunity to be included in focus group discussions in March.

Once this part of the study was complete, we moved on to a similar survey format for inviting survivors to share with us their experiences of counselling online. We also invited survivors to participate in one-to-one interviews via phone or zoom with Michelle.  Survivor participants were not asked about the experience/s that brought them to counselling; only to share with us their experiences of working online, and / or face-to-face during a pandemic.

The Second Strand of the Programme

We will develop accredited CPD training for those working on-line with victims/survivors of sexual violence. All those involved in the project will be offered the opportunity to attend workshops where the CPD online sexual violence trauma work training will be delivered to them, free of charge. This will ensure that survivors can be confident that the services they are accessing – whether in person, or remotely – are of the highest standard.

The initiative is supported by Rethink Ireland, through the Innovate Together Fund, a collaboration between Rethink Ireland, and the Department of Rural and Community Development. The Fund supports charities’ innovative responses to the Covid-19 crisis that will provide lasting change.

Counselling Survivors On- and Off-Line will:

  1. Create a specialist and standardised suite of training for those doing trauma work with survivors of sexual violence;
  2. Ensure that these trainings are accredited and recognised as CPD best practice by key stakeholders, including Government;
  3. Create a safe and secure on-line platform connecting a community of specialist practitioners to survivors.

About our Clinical Lead

Dr. Michelle Walsh

Dr. Michelle Walsh completed her PhD within the Unesco Child and Family Research Centre in NUI Galway. She undertook a nationwide study which looked at the Effects and Understanding of Sexual Harassment among the Irish Adolescent population. Michelle holds a Master’s degree in Clinical Supervision and Professional Practice and is also a fully accredited psychotherapist and clinical supervisor.

She has also worked as an extern on the REAL U project for several years, delivering the training on the module on SEX and the LAW, in addition to delivering training on sexual violence and consent to a wide variety of audiences. A former Board Member of Rape Crisis Midwest, Michelle now works there as a counsellor, and counsellor trainer.

Additionally, Michelle has trained support workers for Sexual Assault Treatment Unit in Limerick. She is aware of the many of issues faced by Clinicians who work with, and Survivors who have experienced, sexual violence. Since the onset of Covid 19, Michelle has been using a hybrid approach to working with clients and colleague – and is, therefore, aware of the challenges faced by those in a similar situation. Michelle is passionate about preventing, and ameliorating, the harm of sexual, domestic, and gender-based violence.