Back on the Horse: First Week Reflections

Last summer, I dove head first into the realm of domestic violence prevention and treatment services. I was doe-eyed and fresh out of my first few HSSP courses, eager and inspired to affect change and challenge inequality. As all internships are meant to do, my previous summer’s experience gave me exposure and insight into a field with complex sociopolitical quandaries, and with only surface knowledge in the subjects of women’s health, mental health, and public policy, I was determined to get back on the horse and pursue another summer internship educating myself. Through the recommendation of my program director at NoVA (The Non-Violence Alliance, CT), I found Emerge, a Domestic Violence and Anger Management Counseling Service centered in Boston, MA, which, as I discovered within my first week, had more than enough resources to expand my knowledge in the field of social services. Founded in 1977, Emerge was the first abuser education program in the nation, and has been at the forefront of combating domestic violence and sexual abuse, taking an intersectional approach within the design of the curriculum.

David Adams, Executive Director of Emerge: Domestic Violence Training Video

I emailed the office manager, per request of the Emerge website, and heard back regarding a Skype interview within the week. By the next week, I was meeting with the program director and office manager via webchat to conduct a brief interview. I demonstrated my passion for the kind of work Emerge accomplishes, as well as my pseudo-expertise in working with clientele, probation offices, and DCF agencies, and soon enough, I was invited to come into the office for an introduction to the office setup and procedures. I was familiar with the design of the program: the client type was primarily male offenders, court-ordered to our program as part of their probationary conditions, referred by DCF as part of a service plan, or self-referred to better their current relationship. The program focused on two stages: an educational stage in which the men are instructed on the basics of respectful communication, self-talk, and various behaviors considered violent and abusive, such as verbal, psychological, or financial abuse, and a second stage where the group members are encouraged to hold each other accountable and provide a forum for discussion under the guidance and supervision of counselors.

The office initially introduced me to old client files, cases that had been completed or terminated, so that I could read original docket paperwork, monthly client status reports, and police reports. Working with files dating back to 1980, I had a plethora of data to peruse. I would manually enter the basic client information (date of birth, address, SSN, etc.) by default, but what enraptured me was always the life that was hidden within the paperwork. The image of each client began to take shape: ‘of X origin’, ‘carpenter’, ‘homeless’; bits of data that actually were significant indicators of the individual’s biopsychosocial environment, information that would prove essential to both understand the violent and abusive behaviors of the client and to develop an approach through which to communicate with the client. However, these cases were long-since closed, and I felt myself itching to get some hands-on interactive experience.

A chart listing agencies across Massachusetts that provide services for groups such as teens, battered women, and lesbian, gay, transgender, or bi-sexual victims of violence. These agencies are safe houses, shelters, transitional housing, and multilingual/Spanish-speaking organizations.
A chart listing agencies across Massachusetts that provide services for groups such as teens, battered women, and lesbian, gay, transgender, or bi-sexual victims of violence. These agencies are safe houses, shelters, transitional housing, and multilingual/Spanish-speaking organizations.

The program directors invited me into a second-stage group to begin observations of those sessions, and this gateway to living, breathing clients enabled me to connect the dots between what I could discover on paper about an individual versus what could be gleaned from interpersonal interactions. As in intern, I was not invited to participate, but rather was able to study the approaches of the counselors, analyze the behaviors and language of the clients, and form my own conclusions. After each session, the counselors were more than happy to answer my questions or respond to any comments I had regarding the group. I will continue to observe one English-speaking group, but I am hoping to travel to the Jamaica Plain location to observe the Spanish-speaking group sessions later this summer. I am especially interested to compare how different communication styles will translate in the Spanish-speaking group, as I am a Hispanic Studies and HSSP double major looking to pursue higher education in linguistics and counseling.

While Emerge will be another stepping stone in my path to navigating my place within the field of Social Services, I am not yet ready to move on from the field of domestic violence. There are infinite ways in which one can affect positive change, especially in this line of work; I have since pursued working with Prevention Services at Brandeis, and I intend to apply all the skills that this internship will instill in me to volunteer at a rape crisis center in the Waltham area. Working at Emerge, I hope, will allow me to find my niche, a job within the Social Services where I flourish, where I can produce positive outcomes in the lives of others; at Brandeis, I have found that the bureaucracy of state-funded or federally administered programs can hinder progress for both agency and client alike. Through my summer at Emerge, I expect to learn how to combat this dilemma and provide actual support services for clients to reduce the failure rate for men who have given up on the system. Furthermore, I am ecstatic to develop my spoken-language comprehension in Spanish and to foster connections with other counselors, social workers, and professionals in this field of work that will direct me in my career as a student and (soon-to-be) professional!

Elsie Bernaiche ’15