Psychological Dimensions: Understanding Trauma and Healing in Gender-based Violence 

Session Report
Reetwika Mallick

The Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi conducted a four week Online National Spring School Program on ‘Ending Gender-based Violence – Cohort 2: Awareness of Policies & Governance’ from March 5th, 2024 to March 27th 2024.

The course, spread over four weeks, provided a unique opportunity to gain in-depth insight into understanding, addressing and eradicating gender-based abuse. The course led by esteemed experts, empowered the participants to expand their thinking and enhance their understanding of challenges surrounding gender-based violence. The four-week duration allows for an in-depth exploration of the subject matter, fostering a collaborative learning environment where participants shared experiences, perspectives, and innovative solutions. Through a combination of engaging lectures, interactive workshops, networking, guidance by thematic experts and practical exercises.

On day 3 of the ‘Ending Gender-based Violence – Cohort 2: Awareness of Policies & Governance’, Dr Padma Deosthali, Director, Sexual and Reproductive Health, CREA; Former Coordinator, CEHAT; Visiting Senior Fellow, IMPRI, guided the participants towards the importance of counselling for survivors of domestic violence and counselling impacts the survivors.

Context: Affect of Violence on Mental Health

Dr. Deosthali embarked the session with explaining the effects of any kind of violence on the survivor. She explained, the effects may range from anxiety, depression to inducing a sense of guilt and shame. Dealing with such psychological consequences of abuse in a social setup where traditional mental health buffer, the kins has eroded becomes difficult according to Dr. Deosthali. In the session, Dr. Deosthali highlighted the dilemma between sharing efforts of the women’s working groups towards helping individual survivors and questioning the institutions, laws and legal responses. Dr. Deosthali, an expert in the field also discussed in the session discourses surrounding the dilemma.

Feminist Conceptualization of Violence Against Women-

Dr. Deosthali explained that the feminist perspective regards violence as a clear manifestation of unequal power relations between men and women. She highlighted any kind of abuse-in terms of economic, sexual, physical- occurs to continue controlling the survivors. Dr. Deosthali outlined, the feminist counselling drawn from women’s movement, as personal is political. She delineated that the events happening in a woman’s life is not just her personal experience, rather it is connected to what’s happening in the larger society, its political because it is because of the gender norms and the patriarchal structures that allow violence against women.

Validating women’s experiences in counselling is the second most important principle in counselling the women survivors, Dr. Deosthali explained. Maintain an egalitarian relation between the counselor and the survivor is also necessary according to Dr. Deosthali to make the survivor a part of the process of therapy. The fourth principle Dr. Deosthali enumerated is the awareness of power and powerlessness in personal and social sphere. Dr. Deosthali in the session mentioned that importance of making the survivor aware of their strengths during the counselling process as another important principle.

Violence in general and domestic abuse in particular, Dr. Deosthali outlined needs to be studied in a socio- economic context- caste, class, religion, community, etc. Such an multi- pronged issue, according to Dr. Deosthali requires participation from diverse groups of women and men. Dr. Deosthali in the session elucidated the need to view domestic abuse and its affect on a society as a whole and not consider it in a myopic manner.

Principles informing feminist counselling-

Dr. Deosthali, taking the session forward listed the important principles that inform the feminist counselling. The first principle need to be identified according to Dr. Deosthali is to situate sexual violence in the context of power and de-linking the concept from social constructs like honor or purity. The need to explain the importance of medical examination and ensuring a comfortable space for the survivor to be able to give the details of the event of violence is of utmost importance.

Validation of women’s feelings and experiences by counselors also aid in the counselling process, according to Dr. Deosthali. She shared examples of case studies of counselling at Dilaasa, and the positive impact it had on the lives of women. Dr. Deosthali explained the need of not to blame women for the violence they experience rather than a consequence of unequal power exercised in the society. Dr. Deosthali also underlined that women need to understand and take active participation to curb violence against them.

Dr. Deosthali underlining the possible improvements in the present system of addressing gender based violence include being sensitive to the survivor of violence, taking swift action without any delay by the respective authorities involved in terms of investigation as well as dispensing justice. Dr. Deosthali provided enlightening analysis of ‘Surviving Sexual Violence: Impact on Survivors and Families‘ conducted by CEHAT in 2018 in the session.

Concluding the session, Dr. Deosthali reiterated the need to stop blaming the survivors for the violence inflicted upon rather question the perpetrator.

Read more event reports of IMPRI here:

Role of Governance in Combating Gender Based Violence: Structures and Strategies in India