What you need to know:
- I had a diploma in counselling psychology and a certificate in HIV testing, but while doing my job, I felt that I didn’t have enough knowledge on matters counselling.
- I met many clients who were dealing with problems that required the services of a professional counsellor, so I went back to school and pursued a Bachelor’s degree in counselling and psychology.
- I have been practicing as a psychologist for five years now.
Margaret Sidi, 40, is a counselling psychologist who handles gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual assault cases. She is based at Mtwapa health centre, Kilifi County.
What inspired you to pursue counselling psychology?
Growing up, I wanted to be a clinical officer, but I got into counselling because of what I witnessed in my previous job. I had a diploma in counselling psychology and a certificate in HIV testing, but while doing my job, I felt that I didn’t have enough knowledge on matters counselling. I met many clients who were dealing with problems that required the services of a professional counsellor, so I went back to school and pursued a Bachelor’s degree in counselling and psychology. I have been practicing as a psychologist for five years now.
What age demographic do you mostly deal with?
It is hard to describe my patients because each is unique and complex in their own way. I offer counselling services mostly to children aged six and above. I refer those who are below this age to a child therapist.
Tell us about your job…
I work in a health centre where counselling services are included in the treatment package for victims of gender based violence and sexual assault. When they are referred to me by the examining specialist, I book them for at least six sessions. In a month, regrettably, I deal with up to 10 cases, with most of my patients being young girls.
What goes through your mind when you see a child victim of defilement?
As a mother of two boys, it is difficult dealing with such cases both from a professional and a personal perspective. I ask myself, “Have I done enough to educate my children on these issues?” I take it as a challenge and try to enlighten my children and others about sexual abuse and the importance of speaking up. It is unfortunate that most young boys and girls don’t know that they are being molested or what to do about it because they lack information.
What should be done to reduce such cases?
Parents have a big role to play. I was born and bred in a community where there were many such cases, and I attribute it to gaps in parenting. There are parents who don’t care about the welfare of their children. Some don’t care when their children get back from school, and hardly ever engage them in conversations. For those in university, there is need for more empowerment and mentorship.
We also need to find ways to help perpetrators of GBV because some have underlying mental issues that require counselling.
What is the hardest thing about your work?
Even amid the mental health crisis currently being witnessed in the world, counselling as a profession has not been given the recognition that it deserves. For instance, there are individuals that I would want to help but they refuse to show up for counselling sessions because they don’t understand what we do and do not respect this field. The fact that many don’t know much about therapy and why we exist, sometimes makes our work difficult.
And what is the best thing about your job?
The satisfaction I get when my clients get comfortable enough to open up about their issues, and the confidence to forge forward with life despite what they have gone through. Seeing young girls go back to school particularly makes me very happy.
How do you respond to a patient who is emotionally distressed after suffering a traumatic experience?
I identify ways to make them relax, and reassure them that their feelings – whether anger or shyness – are normal. Then we can move from there. I work with other professionals including children officers and paralegal officers who ensure that the victims stay in a safe environment such as a rescue centre.
What, in your opinion, is the most important quality of a counsellor?
When dealing with someone who has gone through a traumatic experience, you have to show empathy and compassion. Also, you have to create a safe environment for the clients, and be patient with them as they journey towards healing.
How do you decompress?
I see a therapist at least once in a month because I carry a lot on my mind. You cannot deliver on your duties as a counsellor when you are overwhelmed or have a lot going on in your life. If I encounter an obstacle or need advice on how to go about a particular issue, I go to my therapist.
Are there ways to support survivors, beyond counselling?
Yes. Even after counselling sessions are over, it is important to offer psychosocial support to survivors. This can be in the form of mentorship, economic empowerment and psychoeducation.