We sat down and had a chat with Leoniek and Fenella, who are our champions behind BRAVE. Leoniek is an academic and mental health professional from Netherlands. Fenella is a mental health professional from Malaysia, who was trained in the United States. She is also a certified yoga instructor. These two members are among the dedicated diverse team at SOLS Health who are managing the support for women and children survivors of domestic violence.
What motivated or interest you to be a part of SOLS Health and BRAVE?
Fenella: The main reason why I was attracted to SOLS Health is the community involvement with the public. When I joined SOLS Health, I had the chance to practice and provide therapy through this platform. With the opportunity with BRAVE, we are looking into the trauma-informed care concept, with which I have a similar experience working when I was in the United States. My previous involvement in the States led me to bring in the trauma-informed care idea into mental health because I feel that there is a gap here in Malaysia. This concept is new as well, because I think it only started in the past few years in the States. It seems that in the Malaysia community there is not much awareness around that, so there is some things that we are working with now as to how we can fine tune this US concept into Malaysia’s culture and population. This is so that it’s more adaptable when we try to implement it with the organisations.
Leoniek: For me, the most important reason I joined SOLS Health was because I really wanted to contribute to promoting mental health and raising awareness around mental health. I felt that SOLS Health is doing a lot of advocacy and doing a great job in raising mental health in communities, in corporates, and in various environments. So that was the main reason for me. For BRAVE, is very similar to what Fenella was saying. I have a lot of experience in working with traumatised people and from my experience, I know that the care they receive is often not matched to their needs. And I feel that as mental health practitioners, we can do a better job in delivering care for traumatised people. And definitely in Malaysia, there is quite some work that could be done. So this is really great to be involved and to be able to make an impact. I think it’s all about being able to make an impact for me.
What has your experience been like so far in SOLS Health?
Fenella: With the platform that has been provided by SOLS Health, I’m able to use this platform to spread my voice more to the community as compared to my own. It is something I really appreciate and feel grateful for, that I share similar thought processes with the team in sols health.
Leoniek: I really feel we all have the same goal at SOLS Health, and that is a really great way of working. I agree with what Fenella has said. To add on, we get to work a lot with trainees, the next generation who will be delivering the mental health care. And I think its really really important that we train them as good as we can and we expose them to a lot of different opportunities by teaching and guiding them. It really feels like its a snowball that is rolling and its getting bigger and bigger. And for me its been very rewarding.
What type of work are you doing at SOLS Health?
Leoniek: I have been doing clinical supervision of trainees. I have also been involved with research and written a research proposal that we have been very fortunate that we got funded. So we will start a small study, which is great, because the goal of the study is to raise awareness, in this case about post-partum depression. I have also been involved in thinking along contributing to developing SOLS Health 2.0, on how to move forward, the things that can be strengthen, and the things that we can improve on. And of course a lot of work in developing the trauma-informed care, in training WAO staff and case consultation.
Fenella: In the beginning, I was more of an associate psychologist, whereby I work on individual therapy or family therapy. Upon being in this role, I did grant writing, I presented to Protect and Save The Children (PSTC) concept and ideas on trauma-informed care and replicate that to WAO. I'm also a program coordinator, where I coordinate whats going on between organisations like WAO. I've also started to do some trainings and taking up supervisions for some trainees.
How would you describe your experience working with domestic violence survivors so far?
Fenella: I would say it is never easy because sometimes, the victims themselves don’t even recognise themselves as a victim and to give them credit, we don’t call them victims, we call them survivors. I think it’s a journey to work with this population and at the same time we need to be very well aware of our own self-care and emotional recognition as well, in order not to get trapped around the process. This is why from my previous experience as well as now, supervision is very important. Only if you are able to have a clear mind and know what you are doing, then you will be able to offer the support as needed to this population. Also, things like reminding ourselves not to put on our judgment hat when we work with this population or to think that we are here to “solve their problem”, but we’re more like a supportive role. So those are the things that I think is important when working with this population. As well as empathic listening skills. Also, to carry a humble heart. My previous supervisor reminded me about this, that in this job, we stay humble when we work with them.
Leoniek: I would say that it is not easy and it’s a challenge. But I really enjoy like finding the strengths in people and helping them see their own strengths and help them overcome or live through the experience, enabling them to move forward. Because you know bad things happen in life and bad things happen to everybody, according to different degrees where some may be worse than others. But I really like to focus on moving forward. While dealing with the past, how you can strengthen someone or how someone can be empowered basically. Empowered to move forward. Its not easy, but it can be done. From my experience, a lot of survivors are very resilient. Resilient women who are able to deal or cope with all the challenges, because we cannot imagine how challenging It is when you are suffering from mental health issues. For example, you are suffering from a depression because of what happened in your home, you need to find a place for yourself , provide for your children, raise your children, you may have lost all your contact with your family or family in law who are your support system. Its really really challenging for them. For us, it’s a humble role. We can never take away what happened. If we have a magic wand, then you know then we would do our magic to take it away. But we cannot do that. The only thing that we can do is to help them get through as good as possible. That is also what we try with the trauma-informed care. If we work as a team around a survivor, we know that the care they receive is better and the outcome will be better. So that’s our main reason for developing and implementing our programme. Trauma-informed care is implemented in multiple countries like in the States and Netherlands. We both have worked with it, and we see how well it works. So that’s the main reason for us to implement it here in Malaysia with WAO.
Fenella: It’s never possible to be a one-man show when you work with this population. You need the support, you need different system and you need to have the survivors to look for support system as well. This is why you need the wrap-around care to engage different parties.
Leoniek: Yeah, so we have a wrap-around care, where a survivor is tucked in the middle and they are wrapped around a team. The team in this case, is team members from WAO and team members from SOLS Health. Together, forming a team.
What services are you providing them with? Where do you come in and how does it impact them?
Leoniek: One of the important things of trauma-informed care is acknowledging that there is trauma. In educating staff about trauma and its impact, the impact it can have on women and also their children, very important, we shouldn’t forget about the children. That’s the first thing. So it is training the staff that is dealing with the women and children directly. But its also training staff that is not directly involved. To also help them understand about trauma and the impact of trauma. And then next what we do is we provide psychotherapy. So its either individual therapy for survivors or their children and also family therapy, where mother and child come together. On top of that, in January, we will be offering parenting training for women and support groups for children. So we have multiple support groups depending on age. We have children from 7 – 10, and 11-13. We will be running support groups. There is also case consultation, for example, if a staff Is struggling with a case and they would like some input.
Fenella: We also promote the idea of wrap-around, as its still new in this context. And what we mean is to build a therapeutic working relationship between the therapist and case worker in support. In other words, to provide better support to the client.
Leoniek: In individual therapy, they get to work individually with the therapist to work through what has happened to them. Because you can imagine that even though all women have experienced domestic violence, their experiences are very different. In the way they deal with it or the way it impacts them currently on their current functioning may differ from one woman to another. So that really needs an individual approach. Some people feel a lot of self-blame. For others, they may feel lots of anger and may have difficulty controlling their emotions and maybe slapping their children, for example. So it needs an individual approach, for those specific things. Those can be addressed in individual therapy. For group therapy, it focuses on parenting skills. Cause these women, they all mostly deal with somewhat similar issues. Like communicating with their child and parent-child relationship. We also do a lot of training and program development.
Fenella: The direction of this focus, was after a need assessment was done with the staff. These are some of the struggles that the women are facing in WAO. We are utilising the KAMI (strengthening families program) model, and apply similar concepts to these women, knowing that these are some of the struggles that they have.
Moving forward, the design that we have will be women and children, with condition that the children are 10 and above. This is because it needs some intellectual processes for them to interpret the concept and learning. This is why we require the involvement of the children with a certain age.
How has working with this people impacted you?
Leoniek: It definitely has been fulfilling in making an impact. For me its not so much of making an impact on an individual lives, because I don’t see individual clients, but its more of knowing that you are making an impact on individual lives and families. And also making an impact on the quality of care provided. That is fulfilling and rewarding and at the same time it is also being grateful about the situation that I am currently in. That I am able to do this and that I am in a very fortunate position.
Fenella: I second on what Leoniek said. For me, its gratitude. When I do this work, the focus is not mainly on myself but its more to utilise this platform to spread our mission. Some of the things that we can see a potential difference that we can contribute to the community and using this platform to share and spread this. Sometimes you never know. I never expect to be where I am here today. And so happen, Leoniek was from Singapore and we now have crossed paths, where she comes with her own background and I with my own background, but we’re sitting here together doing the same mission. Grateful for the support from Leoniek, her knowledge and expertise, and doing this together.
Leoniek: I am extremely happy with Fenella on the team, and I think she does a really great job in translating mental health issues to make it easier to digest. That really is one of her strengths. Her experience and expertise really shows. She gives lots of examples during trainings, of things she has seen before or dealt with before and really make it easily applicable staff and I think that is really important.
Fenella: I feel really grateful to have cross paths with Leoniek. Especially in doing this. From a simple conversation, she shows that she knows what she is doing and she knows what is going on in the field. She brings in different perspectives when the staff or trainees are stuck with certain things. She gives constructive feedback on how we can move on from here. A lot of good insights and good sharing, so I’m grateful.
What are your aspirations for BRAVE?
Leoniek: For ourselves, I’m hoping that we keep getting better and better at what we’re doing. And hopefully, we can start collecting data and can show results that we are making an impact. That is something I’m really working towards to. Also, I’m hoping that we can roll this snowball. Although we start small now, that this can grow and can be used in other organisations. There are many other organisations that works with traumatised people, whether it be domestic violence or sexual abuse or any other type of trauma. That would definitely benefit from the same type of trauma-informed wrap around care. It would be really ambitious, but we want to do it all over Malaysia. In clinical, there’s gonna be post-traumatic growth, which means that you come out of it stronger, and empowerment to move forward, to move on.
Fenella: I second with what Leoniek says. Hopefully, when we talk about mental health care, the foundations underlying perspective or thought processs in people’s minds will be trauma-informed care. Hopefully and ideally that would be the minimum that we would like to see. For the people at BRAVE, we hope that they will be able to regulate themselves in a healthy, physical, and emotional way.