In the Spotlight: Meet Shelley!
Updated: Jun 5, 2019
Can you describe your work at Sojourner?
I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I provide therapy for women and adolescents who have experienced abuse, as well as occasional family therapy.
What is your history with Sojourner?
Many years ago, I was doing work which was no longer feeding my soul. I got a kick out of it but I thought maybe if I volunteered somewhere it would fill the ‘gap’ that was missing. I found Sojourner just by a Google search! I started volunteering answering the crisis line and it just hit me, I would really love to work more with these women and help them ‘get out of this movie’. The change in my life was pretty abrupt. I had my own marketing research consulting firm at the time and I just shut it down, went back to school for my Masters in Psychology and did an internship at Domestic Abuse Project (DAP). When I was working at DAP, they already had grant that allowed Sojourner to access DAP therapists. I started out coming here one afternoon a week. Eventually I left DAP and started my own practice which has allowed me to be at Sojourner more often. I really came full circle!
What are some shared goals or common threads that you see when working with this particular group of people?
Everyone has a different set of therapy goals but there are certainly common threads. I use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with almost everyone. Learning some basic CBT tools can be applicable to so many different issues. Very often there will be work around depression and anxiety. I see those as a function of having experienced trauma and are PTSD like symptoms. I provide psycho-education and help people understand what is actually happening to their brains when they experience trauma. We also often work on building self-confidence and self-esteem. Their abuser has systematically chipped away at their sense of self and their identity and so it is a lot about recapturing who you are.
A lot of the work is around boundary setting and assertive communication. Women, in our culture in general but particularly within this population, believe that you are either ‘nice’ or ‘assertive’. So we work on how you can be both. Helping people honor their anger is something not quite as common but that does come up. Sometimes it can be about envisioning your future, what are your values and how do they inform what your goals are? What happens in the therapy room is about getting insights and learning tools, about yourself and where things came from so you can challenge negative thoughts or think about how to do things differently. But the change doesn’t happen in that room. If you don’t use it, nothing is going to change.
How do you decide what to focus on?
During the intake process, I try to ask questions that will help me understand what their goals are. I want us to be on the same page with what we are working on. It’s a collaborative process. The next time they come in, I present them with a therapy goal sheet. I ask “here is what I heard you say you want to work on, is that right?” and they get to adjust it as they need. Usually I’m pretty close though! Then, we pull that out every 5-6 sessions to check in or as a course correction. Mostly, it helps people to see the progress they have actually made. They might say “Oh, I’m not having those flashbacks anymore” or “I’m sleeping better”. Change happens slowly, so they might not be where they want to be but they realize that they are making progress.
What do you most want people to know about your work?
I think it’s important for people to reconsider the question of 'what’s wrong with you' and instead ask 'what happened.' As a survivor of domestic violence, it’s about being gentle with yourself and saying, ‘my symptoms are a function of what I’ve experienced. They are normal responses to an abnormal situation’.
How do people access your services?
I receive referrals through Sojourner’s community advocacy program. We work collaboratively (while still maintaining confidentiality). That is one of the things I really value about being on site at Sojourner. There are some significant benefits to partnering with advocates. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The clients we see here have a team. There is also something wonderful about the actual physical space of Sojourner. People know that they can come here and be safe and get support on many levels.
Curious to learn even more about Shelley's work? She recently wrote an article for our newsletter mailing on trauma-informed care. Contact Laura@SojournerProject.org to be added to our mailing list!