Reclaiming Her PowHER (Women & MHA): Lara Baldwin
We spoke to counsellor and in-home therapist Lara Baldwin about her treatment of abuse survivors, patients with dementia and what it is like being mental healthcare professional.
Trigger Warning: Abuse, Suicide, Dementia
Correction (12/10/20): Lara was unable to qualify as a nurse due to personal mental health struggles. Yet, it remains a dream of hers. We wish her the best of luck on her journey.
This abuse counsellor and in-home therapist practices counselling because she believes she can be the safe and soft landing for mentally ill patients who need a place to rest.
Lara Baldwin grew up always wanting to work with people who needed help, yet it was only when she was a student nurse in healthcare that she found herself drawn to patients who were admitted for suicide watch and mental illnesses.
“They were always so lonely, and I could see that most of them just wanted to be treated normally. They wanted to have someone to talk to. Someone who wouldn’t judge them for their choices and mental struggles,” Lara told To EmpowHER.
She says people need someone to talk to and not everyone has that. She wanted to be that someone.
“We can’t live our lives stuck in a bubble. Eventually, it’ll pop and we all need a safe landing. With counselling, my hope is that my helping them can be that soft landing.”
We chatted to Lara about what it is like being the safe and soft landing for her patients.
How does in-home counselling differ from therapy at a healthcare institution or private practice?
The difference between in-home counselling and private practice is what fits the client best. In-home counselling is also generally more affordable than a private practice. This is due to the fact that an office needs to be rented for meetings to take place. I would love to have space at some point where people can choose to visit me in the office.
What type of in-home counselling do you provide to patients suffering from dementia and why do you provide this service?
The in-home counselling I provide is mainly coming to terms with the new diagnosis. The patient is losing a part of themselves that they've had all their lives. Their memories will change and fade. The people that they once were will no longer be. It’s a really difficult thing to come to accept. You are losing ‘you’ and that causes grief.
I think people often forget about the afflicted and focus on their families. It’s important to remember that they are also losing themselves and that it is not just the family that is grieving and learning that things will change. I really believe that the sooner they come to understand and accept what their new reality will be, the easier the transition can possibly be.
Please explain adaptive counselling and in what ways is it beneficial for families?
I aim to do adaptive counselling for the families who choose to keep the loved one at home. I focus on the household changes that may need to happen.
For example, if they were a driver, keeping their driver's license and car keys in a safe space. Keeping certain things unplugged. Helping family members see and understand the dangers of too many steps or a bed that is too high or too low. These are simple but very important things to counsel people on – understanding why they are important and the impact that they’ll have on their lives.
What does the counselling you provide to abuse survivors entail? Are there skills or techniques they can do to help them in their day-to-day lives?
My main focus is on helping survivors remember that their abuser had and has no right to harm them in any way. What happened was not the survivor’s fault. The fault lies purely on the offender.
Self-validation is very important. Accepting how you feel, hearing your own thoughts and understanding why it makes you feel a certain way is vital for healing. Even though you may not believe your thoughts or feelings, it’s okay. It’s about acknowledging them by understanding the difference between what is true and what is not.
How does abuse manifest in a relationship? In what ways does counselling empower women who are in emotionally manipulative relationships?
Most victims in abusive relationships will become reclusive. They will most likely avoid activities they used to enjoy. They may become very defensive of their relationship. They frequently make excuses for the abuser’s bad behaviour. The abuser rarely leaves the victim alone with someone the victim is close to or trusts. The victim fears to make decisions without the abuser’s approval.
It empowers women by alerting them to these ‘norms’ that aren’t so normal. They become aware of the red flags and have the knowledge to act upon it. Many of these women become more confident and feel empowered enough to stand up for themselves. They can stop the cycle of entering into future abusive relationships.
How can young girls and young women in abusive relationships ( friendships or romantic ) begin the process of leaving the relationship? For those who may not realise they are in an abusive relationship, what might help them understand and accept the nature of the relationship?
This can be a difficult one. I feel the first thing is to acknowledge and accept that you are in an abusive relationship/friendship. And I put these two together to bring into one action because for you to know something is to accept it. It’s like a math equation. You know the formula and if you do not accept that that is the formula, you will get the incorrect answer. You will not accept that you are in an abusive relationship. I feel that you cannot have one without the other. And until you acknowledge and accept the reality of your situation, there is nothing anyone can do.
You as the victim needs to remember some of the common signs of abuse. Have you become more reclusive? Do feel as though you can no longer trust your own judgement? Have their actions caused a decline in your self-worth and confidence? Do you feel fearful and worried about making decisions that do not include your partner/ family member/ friend? Have they physically harmed you or have done anything to you without consent? etc.
I feel this quote by Dr Henry Cloud is a good one to remember. I liken it to how people say you can judge someone by how they treat the waiter.
“A good relationship test is how a person responds to the word ‘No’.
Love respects ‘No’.
Control does not.”
It’s normal to feel disappointed when someone says ‘No’ to something that we’ve been looking forward to. Whether that is sex with your chosen partner/s or just a simple coffee with someone. Be very aware of how that ‘No’ is received. If there is constant hostility, guilt or coercion, this person does not respect you and your boundaries. Love, regardless of it being between romantic partners, family relationships or friendships, accepts and gives positive reinforcement. It will be met with understanding.
How does social media play a role in facilitating abusive relationships and how can individuals decrease exposure to such material?
It’s no secret that social media creates negative thoughts, feelings and actions in many of us, and it can become a constant comparison between our lives and theirs. People look at social media and expect what they see.
Social media feeds the instant self-gratification jar. It is the likes, the comments, the retweets and the follows that so many base their worth on. The more likes, comments and follows we have, the better we feel about ourselves. We are noticed and recognized.
It’s typical human behaviour to feel pride and have a boost in self-confidence when we are
acknowledged or praised by our peers. And because of social media that connects us with
people around the globe, those people that we only 'know' via photos, comments and status updates, are and become our peers. And it is unfortunate that that is how so many people base their worth.
Don’t try to fill that self-gratification jar with the random human that lives in the country that you’ve probably never heard of. I say that this way because that is how insignificant all those people really are in your life. Your life is what is physically around you. It’s not the device you sit in front of or carry around in your pocket. Your friendships, relationships, families, and even that person that smiled at you the other day; that person is far more relevant than the
Karen that liked or criticized your photo. As far as you know, that person is just a bunch of 1’s and 0’s.
And if you’re not careful and you keep trying to get that jar full, it can turn into selfishness, self-entitlement and narcissism. And those traits can breed abusers.
How do abusers become selfish, self-entitled and narcissistic from using social media
and how do these traits manifest outwardly in abusive behaviour?
Abusers are already selfish, they feel self-entitlement and are narcissistic. The abuser will post what seems like an amazing life, along with happy photos and comments. Onlookers will comment and like these actions; the abuser sees the positive feedback, they will feel reinforce in their behaviour and will continue to be destructive towards the victims.
Positive reinforcement, when not specified, is absorbed as a whole. The receiver of the positive reinforcement, in this case, the abuser, will take the positivity and apply it to their entire being. Possibly causing the abuser to feel even more motivated by their behaviour and become more aggressive, verbally and/or physically towards the victim. Note, that even without positive reinforcement, they will continue to be abusive. That is the typical view of themselves. They can do no wrong and everything they do is justifiable.
How has Covid-19 affected your treatment of patients at home? How did you adjust your approach to counselling?
I’m definitely very lucky when it comes to this. I already had online clients due to the fact that I was working when I began the counselling. I was obviously unable to do in-home counselling for the dementia patients, but I’ve still been able to Zoom and conduct WhatsApp call counselling sessions with their families.
How can individuals who require family counselling but do not have access or resources improve their living conditions mid-Covid?
The best way to do this is to reach out. Ask for help. Many organisations, NGO’s and private counsellors welcome pro-bono work.
MORE ABOUT LARA:
Lara grew up in a small coastal town called Richards Bay, about two hours north of Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal. She matriculated in 2010. Two years later, she relocated to Johannesburg and now resides in Sandton where she works from home.
She is a qualified nurse and healthcare professional and has recently completed a diploma in counselling from The Blackford Centre, a United Kingdom college. She studied while practising as a private carer for a patient with dementia. Her patient’s health deteriorated and required full-time care, however, Lara was unable to be her live-in carer. It was at this time when she progressed into in-home counselling.
She has words of advice for abuse survivors: What happened is not your fault. You are loved. You are important. You are NOT alone. Your abuse does not define you, but what does define you is how you grow from it.
… and for those who have dementia: You are still you. Even when you may forget there are people around you, they will not. They will remember your love and your life. Life will get confusing, but there will be people around you who will care for you regardless. Keep a daily diary.
When asked what personal challenges she experiences engaging with the sensitive and traumatic subject matter and how she manages it, she says it can be difficult dealing with some of the stories and trauma.
“It definitely takes a toll on one's mind and emotions. At the end of it all therapists, counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists have a mental professional who they turn to. Some of the things we hear and see are too much for us to handle on our own. Just because we have the knowledge to help others doesn't mean we’re able to help ourselves.
"It’s like asking a brain surgeon to perform his/her own brain surgery. Theoretically, the doctor will know how and what to do but cannot do it practically. Unfortunately, your career or job does not exempt you from potentially having mental trials.
"What motivates me to get up in the morning is hoping that today is the day someone will reach out to me and I'll be able to help them or even help point them in the direction they need.”
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