#MeToo – Counsellors and psychotherapists speak about sexual violence and abuse

BOOK REVIEW

Deborah A. Lee and Emma Palmer (Editors)
PCCS Books, 2020
264pp

Reviewer: Dr Toyin Okitikpi

The timeliness of this publication is worth noting and, importantly, it adds to the growing body of work in this area. An edited book consisting of fourteen chapters and a poem, #MeToo, by Clare Shaw for Deborah Lee, all the contributors are either counsellors, psychotherapists or people steeped within that area. Many of the authors are eminent in their fields while others are at a specific juncture in their professional careers. The innovative aspect of this book is that all the contributors are practitioners who themselves have experienced sexual violence and abuse at varying stages of their lives, either in childhood or as adults.

Although there is a very clear connecting theme that links all the chapters, in essence the chapters are self-contained and can therefore be read out of sequence. Like a reflective journey, each chapter is essentially a conversation, a personal testament, with a sprinkling of professional opinion, and exchanges between two practitioners. The structure of the book lends itself very well to this approach whereby the main author of the chapter tells their story while their ‘conversation partner’ provides a feedback or reflection on that story. The stories themselves are not easy reading, not because they are graphic and detailed, although some are, but because the implicit, the hidden, the grooming, the fear, the trauma and the powerlessness which was experienced and endured is painful to read.

Another strength of this book is the diversity of the contributors and how, in their different ways, they cover a range and different aspects of sexual violence and abuse. Straddling all the chapters is the impact of sexual violence and abuse on the physical, emotional and psychological development and wellbeing of not just the individual but on wider society as well. There are references to how the abuses have led to addictions, isolation, depression, attempted suicides, distancing, self-harming behaviour, alienation, discombobulation, and estrangement from the world around.

An important area highlighted in one or two of the chapters is the controversy surrounding the use of language and terminology and how to refer to those who have experienced sexual violence and abuse but helpfully the weight of the ongoing disagreement does not dominate or overwhelm the conversations. There were discussions about where to locate retribution, reconciliation, justice, rehabilitation and anger in the discourse but it is worth noting that the authors did not allow themselves to be side-tracked.

An interesting chapter (9) by Amanda Light and Tina Johnson, explored the idea of ‘reconnection through dance movement psychotherapy’. This chapter asserts that to just focus on language and/or medications in therapy is to miss the crucial role that movement and dance could play in the healing process.  Laced throughout the book are the intra and inter psychic battles and dilemmas that the authors and their conversation partners were having to confront and deconstruct. Concepts such as pitfalls, guilt, betrayal, shame, inner pain and broken trusts are laid bare and open for the world to see. In addition, in practice, they have to develop professional relationships or a working partnership with clients in a way that reframes and relocates the causes of the emotional and psychological damage where it rightly belongs.  Every chapter is like a jolt out of the stupor of complacency and the reassurance that there is an easy solution.

The attempt by Lee and Palmer can only be described as a self-conscious, radical approach in attempt to shake the profession, and everybody else for that matter, from the assumption that there is them, clients, and us, practitioners. This book is perhaps a redrawing of the boundary lines and a request for practitioners to start asking different kinds of questions about the nature of the therapeutic relationship and how to enable and facilitate the journeys of clients along with their revelations, especially regarding sexual violence and abuse. All the chapters have a great deal to offer but it is those chapters where the two contributors are fundamentally at odds with regard to approaches that best illustrates the complex world Counsellors and therapists inhabit. #MeToo gives space and a voice to Counsellors and therapists who have experienced sexual violence and abuse but whose voices have been silent because of fear or uncertainty about the impact of their disclosure on their professional standing and in their relationship with clients. In many respects this publication attempts to humanise the discussions and provide a solid foundation from which to explore the reality of sexual violence and abuse and a chance, perhaps, to begin a different kind of journey. There is also a sense that this book is challenging practitioners in the field to rediscover the essence of the relationship between those being helped and the helper and what happens when their shared experience of sexual violence and abuse is brought out in the therapy room.

I would strongly recommend this book to counsellors and psychotherapists and all practitioners in social work and social welfare field as well as lay readers. This is an important publication as it lays bare the reality of sexual violence and abuse and the long-term damage it causes.

Dr Toyin Okitikpi was Principal Lecturer and Head of Social Work at London South Bank University. Having started in residential care he qualified as a generic social worker and worked in the field for many years before moving into social work education as senior lecturer at Brunel University. He now works with tribunals involving adjudication and arbitration services, but he continues to have an interest in social work education specifically: practice-related theories; refugee and asylum seeking children and their families; social integration and cohesion; and working with children of mixed parentage.
Toyin is currently a lay member on a number of Tribunals including: Mental Health Review; Employment Tribunal (first tier); and Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. He has written numerous articles and has edited and contributed chapters on a number of social work related publications.
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