During our national counsellors’ day event back in June, I was asked what had made me decide to be a part of Counsellors’ Together UK from its inception. At the time, I was taken aback as I had not really thought much about it but recently I have been reflecting on this question and, the truth is, the answer lies many years before the formation of CTUK.
The internet has been central to my upbringing from around age 12. This was pre-social media and the majority of people met through chatrooms and message boards. These online communities have given me the best of humanity through healthy and healing relationships (and our community at CTUK). It’s also been the platform where I met some of the worst of humanity and I was sexual groomed and exploited online from the age of 12 right through my teenage years.
It’s probably hard to remember the widespread suspicions that people used to hold about internet relationships and thus perhaps also hard to remember why people might have found it difficult to understand how I could go from being the victim of many online paedophiles (and subsequent face-to-face meetings) to deciding to travel 3000-odd miles to meet a group of people that I’d only connected with online! This group of people would be my saviours and they would pull me up out of the suicidal, self-destructive spiral I was in. In 2011, I flew by myself to Oklahoma to attend a retreat for survivors of rape.
It was here, and over the now decade of our friendship, that I found the first notes of my voice; for myself and for other victims. I was exposed to the idea of using our voice and our story to promote growth and change on a much wider scale. Over the years I posted more and more on rape myths, the legal system and mental health issues. But I became increasingly frustrated at what felt like a glass ceiling. I could speak, but who was actually listening to us? The #metoo movement was still a good half decade away.
It was this increasing desire for actual change in the system that prompted my venture into counselling training. I felt profoundly disempowered and silenced as a survivor and service-user. I couldn’t see how to make a change outside of the system, so I looked to change it from within. Luckily for me, in doing so, I found my passion.
But, ultimately, that passion comes with a price and as I spent more time online in counsellor peer groups, I became increasingly aware of the exploitation and oppression that counsellors also face. In the early days, and in my naivety, I still believed that hard work would be rewarded. I fell for the myth of private practice and the notion that untapped wealth sits there just waiting for counsellors to take that leap – therefore the lack of gainful employment doesn’t matter. It’s holding on to similar beliefs that was stopping us from asking why our membership bodies were not challenging the status quo.
2017 seemed to bring a peak to this frustration for many people. I was sick of feeling like I was trapped in a system that self-perpetuated itself because “this is how it has always been and how it should continue.” So, when Maria launched CTUK, I jumped at the chance to get involved. On a personal level, it has been immensely restorative to be involved in this organisation. To learn that, my words (our words) do hold power. Not only that but that our words can launch a movement, sustain it and eventually evolve into so many exciting ventures. From a silenced, helpless victim to an outspoken and empowered woman with the power to create change…little me is pretty in awe.
So, why did I join CTUK? Because I had a voice that needed to be heard. Because, for me, there was no other choice. I’m so grateful and honoured to get to be a part of this. I really hope that we are giving our members that same sense of empowerment and freedom that I have felt in getting to this point.
Your voices deserve to be heard and we endeavour to hear every single one of you.