Safe Harbor’s free counseling program has rebuilt the lives of many survivors of sexual and domestic violence and human trafficking. The isolation created by COVID-19 has increased the need for these services.

Before Gov. Ralph Northam issued the statewide stay-at-home order, the team at Safe Harbor had identified a cost-effective virtual counseling system. As they transitioned clients into the new system, they used phone check-ins to make sure that clients were managing well.

Safe Harbor continues its services virtually. Free counseling services, in both English and Spanish, are provided through the HIPAA-compliant telehealth system BlueJean.

“The adjustment to the system took time for both counselors and clients. I miss being face-to-face with clients. But, counselors were able to resume their dialogue with existing clients and forge connections with new clients,” Cindy Capriles, Director of Counseling at Safe Harbor, said. “There are a lot of resources and free training that have quickly emerged for counseling professionals as quarantine has forced all counselors into video counseling systems.”

Capriles said one challenge they’ve encountered is how to effectively counsel children through a telehealth system.

“We’ve often used play therapy as a way to get children to express themselves,” Capriles said.

To address this challenge, an online group of licensed counselors shared creative new techniques they had developed in the wake of the COVID crisis. Parents were told to set children up with paper and crayons so that drawings could start a conversation between counselors and children working together in a video counseling call. The group alerted Capriles and her team to therapies that could work with a telehealth system, from PowerPoint slideshows to role-play.

Since clients are sometimes home with their abuser, Safe Harbor counselors have set up code words so that a client can let them know what is going on in a safe way. Capriles and her staff also work with clients to determine the best days and times to talk and what access clients have to a computer or phone.

Capriles said that clients are doing well in the virtual groups. A support group for men created such a strong connection among members that they have reached out to one another independent of the group setting to make sure all were well and coping. A Spanish language support group based at Sacred Heart has resumed with counselors helping members who might have challenges accessing or using the technology.

In addition to virtual groups, counselors at Safe Harbor have been creating videos to share with clients and the greater Safe Harbor community that show progressive muscle
relaxation exercises. They are hoping to create a whole series of videos to help people with coping skills in this time of isolation. 

Safe Harbor counselors are also supporting clients in other ways during these uncertain times. Capriles recalled a client who was in poor health and struggling with food insecurity.

“I advised her to meet me at Safe Harbor’s community offices but wouldn’t let her leave her car to protect her against possible virus exposure. The client arrived with her kids in the backseat.  Her son had recently witnessed a worker providing aid to the family who had been brusque and a little rude,” Capriles said. “I loaded the vehicle with groceries from Safe Harbor’s food pantry and provided masks to the client for her and her children. I greeted the family with kindness, asking the kids how they were holding up. The client’s son remarked that it was nice to get help from someone who seemed happy to do it.” Despite challenges and adversity set by COVID-19, Safe Harbor’s counseling team has shown resilience, have found new tools to do their important work, and as the client’s son pointed out, they have made kindness and compassion a cornerstone of their approach.

Gratitude Report 2020

The Shadow Pandemic

Safe Harbor

“We see a shadow pandemic growing of domestic violence.” – Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of United Nations Women Mlambo-Ngcuka is highlighting a crisis borne of the global lockdown due to…