By: Nicole Kirstein, Stepping Stones Counselor
My name is Nicole Kirstein and I am the counselor at YWCA McLean County, Stepping Stones. I started as the only part-time counselor in December 2008. In a few short months my position was moved to full-time and a year later we hired an additional full-time therapist to fill the demand for counseling services. In my position, I provide FREE and confidential counseling services to victims of sexual assault and abuse and their loved ones, regardless of when their assault or abuse happened. Counseling can be individual, family, or couples counseling, depending on the client’s needs. I also facilitate support groups for adult and teen clients.
When people ask me what I do for a living, the typical follow-up question they ask is, “Wow, how can you do THAT?” I usually respond with, “Because I love my job.” I say this because it is true. I feel honored that victims of this terrible trauma trust me, a complete stranger (when often they have issues with trust because of their assault) with what has happened to them and how it has affected them. Their courage and strength never fail to amaze me. It is inspiring to watch them heal from sexual assault.
Stepping Stones uses a victim-centered approach which I firmly believe helps our clients to heal from this life changing event. The victim-centered approach lets the victims lead their counseling and only share the information they feel comfortable disclosing. This allows victims to feel empowered and safe. The victim-centered approach goes hand in hand with the mission of YWCA McLean County which is to eliminate racism and empower women.
In addition to creating an empowering and safe environment, Stepping Stones does not charge for services or diagnose our clients. We do this because our clients’ response is a normal reaction to a horrific life event. Our clients do not have a clinical diagnosis that will follow them the rest of their lives. Given the right combination of support, validation, and information, our clients can and do heal from the assault. The goal of victim centered counseling is to help restore our clients to their previous level of functioning.
Another aspect of my job that I find fulfilling is planning Sexual Assault Awareness month events in April. Not only do I have the opportunity to counsel victims, I am able to educate the public about sexual assault. I partner with Stepping Stones therapists to plan Take Back the Night and the Clothesline Project. Take Back the Night and The Clothesline Project allow victims of violent crimes the opportunity to speak out about their experience.
When clients call our hotline, come in for counseling and/or tell their story publicly they are taking steps towards healing. I love my job because I get to be one of the “stepping stones” in their journey to healing and I do this while fulfilling YWCA McLean County’s mission. The clients I serve are truly an inspiration to me which is how I can “do THAT!”