Witnessing Trauma: A Counsellor’s Reflections on the Effects of Working with Survivors of Sexual Violence

  • Lisa Spriggens
Part of the Religion and Radicalism book series (RERA)


In this chapter, Lisa Spriggens discusses the praxis of “witnessing” in her counselling work with survivors of sexual violence. She argues that sexual violence desecrates the sanctity of humanity, violating relationships with self, others, the cosmos, and God. Drawing on Rambo’s theology of witnessing, as well as theories of counselling, she explores the practice of witnessing as a form of meaning-making, and as a therapeutic act which promotes survivors’ healing; she also discusses the personal effects of this for the counsellor, as she experiences her “self” as a woman in a society which creates, and recreates, gendered violence. As she encounters this work, Spriggens finds herself asking, “What kind of person do I want to be in light of this work?” Considering the necessary call to social justice that follows witnessing, Spriggens invites readers to consider the small, and not so small, acts which take a stand against gendered violence. In attending to both the wellness of the survivor and larger societal change, she also explores how these different sites of working towards social justice might be supportive and generative in ways which counter some of the effects of witnessing to sexual violence.


  1. Bieneck, S., and B. Krahe. 2011. Blaming the Victim and Exonerating the Perpetrator in Cases of Rape and Robbery: Is There a Double Standard? Journal of Interpersonal Violence 26 (9): 1785–1797.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Denborough, David. 2014. Retelling the Stories of Our Lives: Everyday Narrative Therapy to Draw Inspiration and Transform Experience. 1st ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Co..Google Scholar
  3. Derrida, Jacques. 1979. Living On. In Deconstruction and Criticism, Ed. Harold Bloom, Paul De Man, Jacques Derrida, Geoffrey H. Hartman, and J. Hillis Miller. Trans. James Hulbert, 75–176. New York: Seabury Press.Google Scholar
  4. Ferraro, Kenneth F. 1996. Women’s Fear of Victimization: Shadow of Sexual Assault? Social Forces 75 (2): 667–690.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Freedman, Jill, and Gene Combs. 1996. Narrative Therapy: The Social Construction of Preferred Realities. 1st ed. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  6. Herman, Judith Lewis. 1997. Trauma and Recovery. Rev. ed. New York: BasicBooks.Google Scholar
  7. Hernández, Pilar, David Engstrom, and David Gangsei. 2010. Exploring the Impact of Trauma on Therapists: Vicarious Resilience and Related Concepts in Training. Journal of Systemic Therapies 29 (1): 67–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Jackson, Debra. 2016. Answering the Call: Crisis Intervention and Rape Survivor Advocacy as Witnessing Trauma. In Critical Trauma Studies: Understanding Violence, Conflict, and Memory in Everyday Life, ed. Monica J. Casper and Eric H.R. Wertheimer, 205–226. New York: New York University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Janoff-Bulman, Ronnie. 1992. Shattered Assumptions: Towards a New Psychology of Trauma. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  10. Jenkins, Alan. 1990. Invitations to Responsibility: The Therapeutic Engagement of Men Who Are Violent and Abusive. Adelaide: Dulwich Centre Publications.Google Scholar
  11. Lonsway, Kimberly A., and Louise F. Fitzgerald. 1994. Rape Myths in Review. Psychology of Women Quarterly 18 (2): 133–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. McGuire, M. Dyan, Steve Donner, and Elizabeth Callahan. 2012. Misogyny: It’s Still the Law—An Empirical Assessment of the Missouri Juvenile Court System’s Processing of Rape and Robbery Offenders. Gender Issues 29 (1–4): 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Moltmann, Jürgen, and Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel. 2003. Passion for God: Theology in Two Voices. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.Google Scholar
  14. New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse. 2016. Data Summary 5: Adult Sexual Violence. Accessed 24 Nov 2016.
  15. Niemi, Laura, and Liane Young. 2014. Blaming the Victim in the Case of Rape. Psychological Inquiry 25 (2): 230–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. O’Neil, Moira, and Pamela Morgan. 2010. American Perceptions of Sexual Violence. Washington, DC: FrameWorks Institute. Accessed 30 June 2017.
  17. Pearlman, Laurie Anne, and K.W. Saakvitne. 1995. Trauma and the Therapist: Countertransference and Vicarious Traumatization in Psychotherapy with Incest Survivors. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  18. Phipps, Alison, Jessica Ringrose, Emma Renold, and Carolyn Jackson. 2017. Rape Culture, Lad Culture and Everyday Sexism: Researching, Conceptualizing and Politicizing New Mediations of Gender and Sexual Violence. Journal of Gender Studies. Accessed 30 June 2017.
  19. Rambo, Shelly. 2010a. Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.Google Scholar
  20. ———. 2010b. Trauma and Faith: Reading the Narrative of the Haemorrhaging Woman. International Journal of Practical Theology 13 (2). Accessed 27 June 2017.
  21. Reynolds, Vikki. 2011. Resisting Burnout with Justice-Doing. International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work 4: 27–45.Google Scholar
  22. Ryan, Kathryn M. 2011. The Relationship between Rape Myths and Sexual Scripts: The Social Construction of Rape. Sex Roles 65 (11–12): 774–782.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Wade, Allan. 1997. Small Acts of Living: Everyday Resistance to Violence and Other Forms of Oppression. Contemporary Family Therapy 19 (1): 23–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. ———. 2007. Despair, Resistance, Hope. In Hope and Despair in Narrative Family Therapy: Adversity, Forgiveness and Reconciliation, ed. C. Flaskas, I. McCarthy, and J. Sheehan, 63–74. Hove: Brunner-Routeledge.Google Scholar
  25. Weingarten, Kaethe. 2000. Witnessing, Wonder, and Hope. Family Process 39 (4): 389–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. ———. 2003. Common Shock: Witnessing Violence Every Day. New York: Dutton.Google Scholar
  27. White, Cheryl. 2009. Where Did It All Begin? Reflecting on the Collaborative Work of Michael White and David Epston. Context (October): 59−60.Google Scholar
  28. White, Michael. 2005. Workshop Notes. Dulwich Centre.;

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lisa Spriggens
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Social PracticeLaidlaw CollegeAucklandNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations