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Staff Insights

Instilling Hope During the COVID-19 Pandemic Through Tele-Counseling

Published August 24, 2021
A woman in a field of grass sits meditating.

Habiba Huka, counseling supervisor, CVT Nairobi

“Habiba, I am lost. I don’t know where I am and I can’t tell what direction to take to get home. I am from the police station where my husband is being held following a robbery with violence incident.” These were the words said by my client the moment I received her phone call. She sounded anxious and distressed. I asked her to disconnect the call so I could call her back as I felt that she needed ample time to talk to someone.

Understanding that she needed stabilization more than anything at that particular moment, I asked her to find a spot where she could sit so we could continue talking. When she did, we practiced the breathing exercises she had learned during her group therapy sessions. We then had a long conversation about the situation she was in – her husband, who was the sole breadwinner, had been involved in a robbery and she was worried about how she would take care of her family without him. Her four young children were waiting for her at home and in her distressed state, she had lost her way home.

After the breathing exercises and listening to her for some time as well as offering her some reassurance, I asked her to stand up and look around again as she took some more breaths. After a few minutes, she said that she could now tell where she was as she had seen a few familiar landmarks. I asked her to make her way home and I would call her in about half an hour to check if she arrived safely. I checked on her later and was relieved to hear that she did.

Following this call, I called her a few more times to check on her wellbeing. From my continued interactions with her, I felt that though she had been a CVT client in the past and had attended group therapy sessions, she could greatly benefit from the Trauma-adapted Psychological First Aid (TA-PFA) tele-counseling sessions that CVT was now offering via phone calls after the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.

When we started out, she was struggling with lack of sleep, nightmares, an inability to focus, and persistent worry about her own wellbeing as well as that of her children now that her husband was in prison. In addition, she had feelings of unworthiness and resentment as a result of her husband’s actions that jeopardized the family’s wellbeing, including the physical, financial, sexual and psychological abuse he had put her through when they were together.

During our phone sessions, we covered several topics; we focused on the resources that were at her disposal, and she realized that she had a number of resources she could make use of – she had a good friend she could talk to frequently and she had the church she attended, mentioning that going to church and singing and dancing praise songs with the community there improved her mood. She was also to grateful to have me as a counselor and felt that our regular interactions made her feel very supported.

We also covered various coping strategies and I applauded her for remembering some of these from the group therapy sessions she had been part of many months prior to the tele-counseling sessions we were now doing. We went over different exercises that incorporated breathing and movement and also covered the cognitive triangle and how she could work on how she spoke to herself, that is her self-talk, to improve how she felt. We also took time to note what was going well, including how she had managed to continue providing for and taking care of her children singlehandedly.

After a few weeks in tele-counseling, she reported to me that she was now able to catch some sleep at night, which had been almost impossible for her before. She was also able to gain some insight into the learned helplessness that she had taken on as a result of the abuse her husband had put her and her children through. She also managed to talk to a friend who had a hair salon and started volunteering her time there so that she could gain some hairdressing skills.

As our weekly interaction continued, one time she mentioned to me that her husband had asked her to lie to his case workers that he had been falsely accused. It was encouraging to me that after how dependent she had been on him previously, she recognized his manipulation this time and even stated that, “I have realized that this man has been a problem in my life and I am not ready to be used again.”

After this, she asked her husband’s cousin to collect all of his belongings as she felt that she was ready to start moving on. She said that she had made the decision to focus on her life and continue working on her thoughts and self-talk as she had learned in counseling, and she strongly believed that God was on her side so she would continue praying to him to help her.

During one of our sessions she reminded me Cynthia’s Story, a narration from the CVT Group Psychotherapy manual that we use in one of the loss and grief sessions, and how after the difficulties she faced, she was able to move on and lead a good life. Just like Cynthia from our story, she now felt that the difficulties would not last forever and that her life could change for the better.

Towards the end of our tele-counseling sessions, I remember calling her and she requested me to call her back later that day as she had a client whose hair she was plaiting. When we talked later on, she told me that she realized that she needed to work hard to help herself and her children. She was now trying her best to get hairdressing clients so that she could put food on her table. I was impressed by the progress that she had made to pick herself up from where she had been previously and commended her for this.

She was eventually able to report the abuse her husband had put her through and is following up on a legal separation process. He is currently doing time for his crime, and the fears that she had harbored about him harming her and her children have been allayed.

Due to her rent arrears and other livelihood challenges she was experiencing, I referred her to the CVT social worker who referred her to another organization where she received livelihood assistance. She continues offering hairdressing services from her home in order to support her family. She is confident that with time she will be fully back on her feet.

“If not for CVT remote counseling during my trying time, I would have been in Mathari (psychiatric hospital in Nairobi). You walked with me, checked on me, and that gave me hope to move on,” she said as we ended our sessions.

Details have been changed to protect the identity of the client.

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