Woman’s Trust is a women-only, specialist mental health charity based in London that has provided free one-to-one counselling, therapeutic group work and workshops to domestic abuse survivors for 25 years. For the last three years, Merchant Taylors’ has provided a grant to fund part of the charity’s life-changing, and often life-saving counselling provision in the London Borough of Hackney.

Women can receive up to 18 weeks of person-centred counselling. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, counselling is currently taking place over the telephone. In the sessions, Woman’s Trust aim to make a positive difference to women’s mental health, isolation, self-esteem, independence and ability to function in day-to-day life. Women engage well with their counsellors because they are not judged or blamed by them. In counselling, women’s negative perceptions of themselves (often foisted upon them by the perpetrator) are gently questioned, leading to women letting go of the shame and blame they often feel.

I felt genuine empathy and received confirmation that I have suffered a lot of trauma and that it wasn't my fault and I'm not to blame. To have that acknowledged has helped eased my guilt and shame but also helped me start my recovery. My counsellor has been a life-saving support for me and I wish to express my everlasting gratitude for her helping me navigate the darkest time in my life. She gave me the courage to continue on with living.

As women’s mental health, self-esteem and confidence improve, they become less vulnerable to continued or future abuse, and more able to fulfil their potential in their studies or at work. They are also better able to fight for, safeguard and care for their children.

The much-needed support during my court ordeal over the children's custody gave me mental relief and the desired outcome for the children and me. The containment through the counsellor during the court process was crucial to validate my experience which the court did not give me. Not having any family support meant that the counsellor became a pillar of strength for me.

Since counselling also helps build awareness of other support services and of their rights, women are in a stronger position to take action, including leaving the abuser and can take practical steps to improve their situation such as securing a permanent home.

Merchant Taylor’s three-year grant has enabled Woman’s Trust to help 20 Hackney women each year to receive counselling.

Woman's Trust was one of the factors in helping me be able to take the courage and leave home from the abuser and prepare for estrangement from family. Knowing my counsellor was there, ready to provide support helped me follow through on the process without a huge mental health breakdown.

Due to Merchant Taylor’s support, Sonia* is currently able to access one-to-one counselling with Woman’s Trust, making a huge difference to how she is able to cope with her traumatic experiences.

Sonia left a 17-year arranged marriage during which she experienced emotional, financial and physical abuse as well as coercive control. Sonia felt confused, manipulated, isolated and lonely as she was cut off from family and friends. The perpetrator’s relentless controlling behaviour and physical abuse resulted in Sonia feeling she could not make choices or autonomous decisions. He was controlling and manipulative, perpetrating abuse and drug-taking in front of their children.

When the changes Sonia had hoped for did not materialise, she took the decision to leave to protect her children as well as herself. Sonia fled with her children and stayed with relatives, first entering a refuge from where they were rehoused and set up in a new home. Though they were now divorced under Islamic law, Sonia started legal divorce proceedings. The perpetrator was a relative of Sonia prior to marriage, which caused additional difficulties for her in managing extended family relationships.

Restrictions due to Covid-19 have had a detrimental effect, delaying Sonia’s legal action, causing anxiety and providing an opportunity for the perpetrator to exert vexatious action. Sonia feels that she had lived in a form of lockdown for many years due to abuse. Now, unable to take up work or see friends on whom she relied for support, Sonia felt lonely and isolated. She and her counsellor discussed coping strategies. Sonia identified walking in green spaces as a means of self-care and manging her feelings. Breathing exercises have helped with her anxiety and poor sleep.  

During therapy, empathy and unconditional positive regard were established between the counsellor and Sonia. Sonia’s goals, aspirations, support mechanisms, coping strategies and self-care were discussed. Her resilience, courage and self-belief were acknowledged. Finding strengths within herself that she had been unaware of has been enlightening for Sonia. She has said that counselling helps her to unburden and talk about things without fear of recrimination. Never before has she had the opportunity to talk freely about her feelings. 

*name changed to protect her anonymity

To find out more about Woman’s Trust, go to their website or follow them on social media @womanstrust.