Registered clinical counsellor Lindsay Bysterveld, counselling services co-ordinator with the South Okanagan Women In Need Society, demonstrates eye movement desensitization reprocessing therapy, which she said is providing astonishing relief for trauma victims. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

Penticton hospital getting sex assault counsellor

SOWINS providing the counsellor with subsidization from criminal and civil forfeiture grants

The South Okanagan Women In Need Society will be gaining a trauma counsellor for its sexual assault treatment team, thanks in part to criminal and civil forfeiture grants from the B.C. government.

The 2017-18 civil and criminal forfeiture grants handed out by the province this year totalled $6.48 million, and SOWINS received $30,000 from the program.

“What we love about it, too, is civil forfeiture is proceeds or profits of crime, so it goes back to the victims, actually, and the survivors of crime,” executive director Debbie Scarborough said.

The $30,000 will subsidize a specialized sexual assault counsellor, with SOWINS coming up with the remaining money to pay that counsellor’s wage. The counsellor will be working with the PRH sexual assault team and providing those services free of charge.

Scarborough said it is important to have a counsellor on board at the hospital, because that is typically the first point of contact after an assault, before RCMP or any other services.

“So we would provide the counsellor; they have a nurse and a social worker that’s on the team. That way it’s a wrap-around service,” she said.

That counsellor would work with the survivor from the first contact with the hospital through the court process, if the assault does go through the legal system.

Having that specialized counsellor, Scarborough said, would add a new dimension to the counselling services already provided at SOWINS.

“It’s a very different violation,” she said. “The recovery, the emotional trauma, etc. It can be very different. So it would just provide a very specialized counselling service.”

One type of therapy that is being utilized by SOWINS more recently is eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, which dates back to the late-1980s, but has more recently risen to prominence.

Counselling services co-ordinator Lindsay Bysterveld, a registered clinical counsellor, said EMDR shows significant success both in her own practice at SOWINS and in research.

The therapy involves a horizontal bar with small lights along the front, that run back and forth across the bar, sort of like a pendulum. Patients rate distress associated with a traumatic image — for instance, the face of their assailant — before and after the therapy.

After working with the therapist, while watching the lights run back and forth, Bysterveld said a person with high associated distress at the beginning of the session tend to experience little distress at the end.

And Bysterveld said once the patient has had success with the therapy, the brain has been effectively rewired to exclude the distress. When recalling the face of the rapist, they will say that it was threatening, but do not feel threatened by it, even years down the line.

Because the therapy has its own accreditation, Bysterveld said it can be expensive — $150 to $200 for a session.

But because she is accredited in that type of therapy, through SOWINS she is able to provide it for free to women who have experienced trauma in the South Okanagan, after another local non-profit donated the $900 machine to SOWINS.

Now, Scarborough said the organization has already received a $500 donation for a second machine, and they are looking to hire a second therapist trained with EMDR.

SOWINS wasn’t the only local organization to get the grant. The South Okanagan Similkameen Restorative Justice Program got $10,000 toward training to increase the capacity of its peace circles program.

According to the project description, the organization intends to “improve the ability of local program facilitators to work with underserved victims throughout the community from various backgrounds through two peace circles trainings.”

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter


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