Supporting the Supporters


May is Mental Health Month, which has been observed since 1949. Mental Health Month helps to raise awareness about the importance of mental health and to stop the negative stigma that is often associated with it. Our mental health is so important because it affects every aspect of our lives, including how we think, act, and feel. In honor of Mental Health Month, we interviewed REACH’s Clinical Supervisor, Erica, to learn more about her role at REACH and the intersection between mental health and domestic violence.

Can you start off by telling us a little bit about your role at REACH and your background?

My position at REACH is as a clinical supervisor.  I provide clinical supervision for our advocates and our child and adolescent therapist.  I also consult with both our community and residential teams to ensure that we are providing the most trauma informed services possible.  It is an incredible privilege to support such committed and talented staff.  In addition to providing clinical supervision at REACH, I have a therapy practice in Waltham. 

Why is clinical supervision so important for the staff at REACH?

Clinical supervision encompasses helping staff better understand trauma and its impact so that they can do their best work with survivors, and supporting staff in understanding and coping with their own traumatic exposure.  There is no way to do this work without an emotional impact.  Our staff routinely hear about terrible acts of violence and injustice.  My goal in my work with the staff is to provide space for them to develop and strengthen the ability to hold the trauma that they are exposed to and to still see the beauty and strength in their work. 

Could you speak on the intersection between mental health and domestic violence?

There are multiple ways in which mental health and domestic violence intersect.  First, being abused or being exposed to abuse is traumatic.  Trauma creates extraordinary impact on one’s mental health.    Every aspect of one’s life can be impacted by trauma (sleep, appetite, physical health, learning and general functioning).  It is essential that mental health providers understand domestic violence and the impact of trauma and that survivors receive information about trauma.  Many abusers will use a survivor’s mental health difficulties against them, despite the reality that many mental health difficulties are directly related to the abuse.  Survivors are often told that they are crazy and unstable by their abusive partners.  This can prevent survivors from getting mental health care that can help them heal.  Abuse is about power and control and abusers frequently exploit any vulnerability in their partner.  If their partner has struggled with their mental health, this can become a focus of the abuse.  For instance, an abuser may prevent a survivor from getting mental health treatment, may throw away their medications used to treat depression, or may attempt to interfere with their treatment (calling their therapist and reporting unstable behavior in the guise of a caring partner). 

With May being Mental Health Month, do you have any tips for how folks can practice self-care, both at work and in their free time?

Self-care can mean so many different things to people.  We live in a trauma saturated world and we all need to care for ourselves so that we can care for each other.  I would encourage people to create practices in their daily lives that remind them of the good in themselves and in our world.  While those practices can look different for everyone, a place to begin can be to think of self-care as nourishment of your five senses.  What sounds are nourishing for you?  What can you look at or visualize that calms you? What tastes comforting and nourishing to you? What smells create a sense of peace for you? What touch feels safe to you?  Once you begin to have some ideas, you can incorporate this self-care into your daily life. 

Taking care of our own mental health is essential to overall health and well-being. For more information, materials, and tools that can assist advocates, human service providers, community organizers, policy makers, and others to address the impact of trauma on individuals, organizations and systems, check out this website created by Jane Doe, Inc.