April: Savin

Savin is a chartered Counselling Psychologist; she studied Psychology at Roehampton University and conducted her doctoral research into the experiences of traumatic events. Savin worked with IKWRO; a women’s right charity that helps women who have experienced domestic violence, 'Honour' Based Violence, Forced Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). She has currently set up her clinical practice, Mindsight Centre, where she continues to work with victims with complex trauma, including domestic and 'honour'-based violence. Savin is also a psychology lecturer at the University of West London, leading a module on violent relationships, and she oversees PhD students completing their doctoral research in trauma and mental health. Savin is also engaged in research in mental health and Gender-Based Violence. 

Why did you decide to work with victims and survivors of domestic abuse and ‘honour’-based violence? 

I come from a community where there is a high prevalence of ‘Honour’-Based Violence (HBV), Forced Marriage, Female Genital Mutilation, and domestic violence. Growing up I had an awareness of the above-mentioned forms of violence, however, when completing my clinical training, I found that within the mental health field there was a lack of awareness and guidance of how to help these women. This made me want to contribute to the field, so I decided to work with IKWRO (also known as Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation). At the time IKWRO was the only charity campaigning to end all forms of HBV and, most importantly, they were offering counselling services in different languages, including my mother tongue, Kurdish. This meant that I could offer psychological services to women in their language without the use of interpreters.

Working therapeutically with women who have experienced domestic violence or HBV can be challenging, more specifically from a therapeutic perspective because there are a number of issues that must be taken into consideration which require a look beyond the psychological symptoms of trauma.  Doing so would aid professionals to gain a bird’s eye view of their needs. For example, for every individual that has fled because of domestic violence or because they are at risk of HBV, it would have meant that they had put their lives in great danger. Leaving is not simple, especially when fleeing because of HBV. Often the perpetrators continue looking for the victim until they are satisfied that the ‘honour’ of the family is restored.  Most importantly, for individuals that flee, often they need practice support in relation to financial difficulties, understanding their rights, housing issues, language barriers, and so on. Therefore, it is important to consider these overlapping needs, since dealing with one without attending to another can sometimes be more harmful and damaging.

We are living through an increasingly pressured time. What concerns do you have for your clients living with complex trauma?

People who have complex trauma are likely to have multiple diagnoses and are especially vulnerable during this pandemic.  The Coronavirus outbreak and the lockdown have had a tremendous impact on almost every individual’s emotional and physical well-being. But for people living with complex trauma, it is particularly difficult due to the reduced mental health services. The current situation can exacerbate or trigger some of their symptoms such as difficulty in controlling emotions which can lead to persistent sadness, or suicidal thoughts as well as physical symptoms including headaches or chest pains.

The current situation can also reinforce some symptoms of complex trauma. These include self-isolating from others, difficulties in communicating with others, dissociation, and the belief that the world is a dangerous place.  Even prior to the current pandemic, appropriate services for people who have experienced complex trauma was limited. People dealing with complex trauma need long-term therapy and practical support in their journey to recovery. 

You teach about domestic abuse in your module at the University of West London? What is the main thing you hope students take away from this module? 

Some of the key issues that I want students to take away are how serious and common abuse is; the difficulties in leaving an abusive relationship; and the challenges in responding to abuse from a victim and professional perspective. In recent years the media’s reporting of domestic violence and HBV related cases has increased. Although this is a positive step in exposing a crime that occurs behind closed doors, at the same time I feel that people are becoming desensitized to its severity. Indeed, most students who take this module often assume they know what domestic violence is.  However, as the module progresses, they report feeling shocked and surprised by the complexity of domestic violence and the limited resources available to victims.

I am very happy to be teaching this module, particularly to final year psychology students who would be either going into employment or continue with their education and can take this learning with them. I believe that what they learn through this module will impact their ability in recognising the signs of abuse (domestic abuse, HBV, and child abuse) and having the right knowledge to intervene or signpost. 

What do you think is the biggest challenge and the biggest reward in your chosen career? 

I have faced multiple challenges but there are two main challenges that I believe are common to everyone who works in this field. The first is the lack of sufficient funding and resources for services/charities and women who have fled domestic violence or HBV. This is particularly the case for smaller and specialist charities like IKWRO. This is a big challenge as it can create barriers to the type of support women can be offered.

The second challenge is the lack of specialist services for children who have witnessed domestic violence. We know through research that witnessing domestic violence as a child can have physical and psychological implications. These implications can have long term consequences if appropriate help is not sought. When working with women who had fled a violent environment, I found there was a lack of services available for their children and it was extremely difficult to support their children.  

Currently, my biggest reward is when I see clients recovering from the trauma they have experienced and are able to rebuild their life. Another reward is seeing students, the future psychologists, engaged with the content of the module and be determined to contribute to the field. 

Do you know a professional who has gone above and beyond to change the response to domestic abuse and keep survivors and their families safe? Nominate someone for Star of the Month by emailing communications@safelives.org.uk with ‘Star of the Month’ as the subject line.