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General guidance

Different forms of counseling may be provided in shelters (e.g. psycho-educational supportive counseling; therapeutic counseling - such as cognitive behavioural therapy; and trauma-informed counseling), based on the identified needs of women, the form(s) of violence they have experienced and resources available. Counseling may also be used in crisis intervention or for longer-term responses to trauma, but requires specialized skills and knowledge. Shelter counselors should have training in delivering the specific form(s) of counseling they provide (UN Secretary-General, 2006b). 

Counseling is important to help survivors:

  • Improve self-esteem
  • Increase coping mechanisms
  • Understand what they have experienced
  • Overcome guilt
  • Express their anger
  • Realize they are not responsible for the violence they have experienced.
  • Know that they are not alone
  • Access support networks and services

Approaches used should be empowering and supportive, respecting the woman’s autonomy and encouraging her independent decision-making, rather than being instructive and telling her what to do (Benett, et al, 2004; UNFPA, 1999).

Counseling should enable women to:

  • Learn that they are experts about their own lives and strengths.
  • Internalize a sense of individual and collective power.
  • Understand their experience as politically oppressive rather than as self-caused.
  • Learn to stand together as a community.
  • Use tools to better control their lives.
  • Employ strategies to create safety and independence.
  • Participate fully in decision-making, record-keeping, and setting rules affecting their lives.
  • Become leaders and advocates against gender-based violence.

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