The Sue Lambert Trust is a Norfolk-based charity supporting survivors of sexual abuse – powered by the generosity of its professionally-qualified volunteer counsellors. As Volunteers’ Week continues, counsellors Bev Wiltshire-Payne and Bob Parker explain why they are happy to volunteer their time
Bev Wiltshire-Payne used to be an HR manager and enjoyed coaching and ‘championing the employee’. However, she most enjoyed helping people – even when it wasn’t necessarily part of the job description! She left full time work in 2005, during her first counselling training – as she was keen to train to be a qualified counsellor so she could go on helping people. However, after a relationship break-up and financial commitments to pay, Bev found herself back in full time employment and had to put a hold on her training for a while. Fast forward to 2018 and Bev left full time work for good, reconvened her training to be a counsellor and now has over 2000 hours experience of counselling.
The 58-year-old, who lives in Tasburgh with her husband and two dogs, runs a private counselling practice from the converted garage at home. She was seeing clients face to face pre-Covid, but all her work is via Zoom now.
Bev has been working and volunteering with the Sue Lambert Trust as a counsellor since January 2019 and says: ‘I have some lived experience of sexual abuse and it has caused me significant difficulties. However, I was fortunate enough to get the help and support I needed and so it hasn’t blighted my life. I really understand how abuse causes men and women problems in later life, in all sorts of ways. To hear the deepest, darkest anguishes people have been holding on to, and then help them on a journey to be the person they could be, is a huge privilege.
‘I knew Sue Lambert (co-founder) well. In my late thirties, I had a hysterectomy and during the recuperation period I decided that I wanted to do something meaningful with my life. Incredibly, I received an email from a trustee for Norwich Rape Crisis on my first day back at work, looking for volunteers to work on their helpline and that was that!
‘Sue was a quietly passionate woman, steadfast in her support for people who had experienced abuse. She did my induction training, and she was my supervisor when I volunteered for the Norwich Rape Crisis helpline. In time we trained new volunteers together.’
Norwich Rape Crisis joined with MPower, a counselling and support service for men and they came together as the Sexual Violence Alliance (SeVA). After Sue died in 2017, SeVa changed the charity’s name to the Sue Lambert Trust, recognising her 30-year contribution to campaigning against sexual violence and abuse in Norfolk. The Trust now also offers counselling and support to survivors of Domestic Abuse.
Bev adds: ‘Working with the Trust has given me the opportunity to work with people who are motivated to make changes to their lives following their experiences of sexual and or domestic abuse; with people whose symptoms have diminished their lives – people who come to realise that with some gentle help, they have a great capacity to grow and enrich their lives.
‘I feel honoured to work with people who even in their darkest moments find opportunities for humour and pathos; their spirit is so strong even if their confidence has been squished. Often, their hope for a better life and desire to work towards recovery is strong and they are willing to work hard to make changes.’
Bev has participated in eight years of advanced, clinical training in Transactional Analysis, and at Sue Lambert Trust, as an experienced counsellor, tends to work with very complex cases over long periods of time.
Bev explains that often, clients have been living in ‘survival mode.’ Therefore, counsellors never just deal with the effects of abuse but also with how clients have learned to cope and survive, and those coping strategies can be difficult to unpick. They can include addictions, compulsive behaviours, eating disorders, self-harm, and substance abuse which in turn have an impact on personal boundaries and self-care.
‘Often clients didn’t have a ‘voice’ as a child – so we work with them to enable them to ask for what they want now, when they feel as though no one has ever listened to them. Especially when someone has experienced childhood sexual abuse and kept it a secret for decades it becomes encoded in the cells in their body. The thought of breaking that secret and trusting someone else enough to do that is often very difficult. Building the therapeutic relationship requires great empathy, patience, commitment, and the ability to sit with difficult feelings.
‘Sue Lambert Trust provides a brilliantly supportive environment for counsellors as well as clients. It has excellent induction training, to find out about our client group. We receive annual safeguarding training, which is vitally important, plus there is a continuous professional development program for counsellors and staff too. The Trust also provides free individual and group supervision for counsellors every month.
‘The abuse some people have experienced is horrific and even for a well-qualified and experienced counsellor, it is important to practice self-care to support your own mental health.’
Bev comments that through Sue Lambert Trust she is doing what she first set out to do when she started her training. She currently sees 12 individual clients each week and co-facilitates support and therapy groups. But you don’t have to see so many clients when you work for the Trust – one is enough.
When asked what others may need to know about supporting the trust by providing counselling services, Bev says: ‘It can be a long-term commitment: many clients are contracted for support for up to 12 months, and you need to be able to make that commitment to them. However, working on Zoom means there is flexibility on both sides, and it doesn’t involve travel – or parking either!
‘My advice to counsellors considering working with Sue Lambert Trust would be to jump in and take advantage of all the ongoing training and support. Don’t take on too many clients at once and you will soon see the rewards of working with the Trust and the clients.
‘When you do this work you might think you know what’s going to happen next with a client, but no two clients are the same and I find it is best to be prepared for surprises! Unlike when you work on your own in private practice, there is always someone to talk to you if you need to de-brief at the end of a session in confidence.’
Because the trust is so supportive, and the work feels so important Bev has found it very heart-warming to be part of Sue Lambert Trust and feels it would be impossible not to experience that. She says: ‘If anyone wants the chance to belong to something bigger than their own practice then it’s a great place to join.’
Bob Parker from Broadland became a qualified counsellor in September 2019 and has been a volunteer with Sue Lambert Trust since June 2018.
Prior to this he had been a volunteer for the Samaritans for more than 10 years during his former career in International Insurance Broking. During his years at Samaritans, he noticed that a large number of callers (mostly, but not exclusively, females) included sexual and violent trauma as at least part of the reason for their call.
‘The incidents of sexual and violent abuse in the county are significant and when, during my training, it was time to find a secondment with a counselling practice, I knew I wanted to do so at the SLT. I knew I wanted to help people who had experienced this type of trauma to find their path through it and hopefully find their way to move beyond it.’
At Sue Lambert Trust, Bob sees around eight clients each week. ‘Despite its stresses the work is immensely rewarding especially when you see, and clients tell you, that they feel heard and can start to live without their traumatic experience affecting them so much anymore. I look forward to seeing my clients each week and building a relationship of trust with them. Helping someone to move out of the horrible shadow on their life and find their way to deal with what has happened is something which Counselling can offer. As the BACP say “Counselling changes lives”.’
Bob trained for his Post Graduate Diploma in Person Centred Counselling, at the Norwich Centre, a BACP Accredited Counselling Service. The training requires participants to achieve 200 hours of face-to-face counselling “at the coal face” as he puts it. ‘It can be incredibly challenging to witness the suffering of another human being. Therefore, working with the Sue Lambert Trust as a volunteer has huge benefits both for the Trust and, because of the infrastructure of support, for the counsellor or trainee counsellor. It provides an excellent opportunity for client work and hopefully at the end of the secondment counsellors won’t walk away but will continue to volunteer their services.’
But counselling is not just altruistic activity. ‘Counsellors do need to earn a living, and after volunteering for three sessions a week, the Trust pays qualified counsellors £25 each for subsequent session.
‘At Sue Lambert Trust, clients who require long term counselling have one, 50-minute counselling session once a week for around a year (this can be extended). Also, people can self-refer, they don’t need to have seen their GP for a referral, they can phone the Trust direct.’
When asked whether the need for counsellors to come forward and volunteer now is in direct response to the pandemic Bob says: ‘I believe the waiting list is longer than the Trust would like but that’s because demand is so high, and the pandemic has probably made that waiting list even longer. Often though, people are addressing traumas that happened a long time ago and they only now feel ready to get into therapy once they feel they can look back without it having an adverse effect on them to talk through what has happened.’
Featured image: Bev Wiltshire-Payne, volunteer counsellor at Sue Lambert Trust