Who knows what happens when the door to some virtual room is closed?
When I sit down in front of the screen as a counsellor, it’s always with an intent to create a safe and trusting environment that might help youth find the courage and desire to share their story; Sharing something, perhaps previously unshared, and letting go of emotions that may have turned into a big knot in the stomach. My hope is also that my counselling is not merely words on a screen that disappear when the chat session is over. But who knows that happens when the door to the virtual room is closed?
If only my arms could reach through the screen
The not-knowing what happens when the chat session is finished, and the acceptance of not being able to follow up on a particular youth, is a condition with which I have grown to reconcile. Sort of. During my 1½ years as a chat counsellor, a lot of young people have imprinted on my mind and taken my breath away with their stories in such a way, that I’ve often wished that I could reach my arms though the screen and remove someone from an incomprehensible reality. Even though I have adjusted to the fact that care and safety can be created through language, there are days I feel that it’s just not enough. I want out of cyberspace and meet our youth IRL:
Secrets are shared for the first time in the chatroom
A 14-year-old girl logs onto the chatroom a friday afternoon. She is new to Cyberhus and is a bit careful in the beginning, but gradually she shares her story that she is molested by her father whom she lives with by herself. This is the first time she lets anyone know about ‘their secret,’ so as a starting point we ‘just’ talk. Although I’m becoming an ‘old stager,’ it is the first time I meet someone who’s been a victim of sexual abuse – and her story leaves an immense impression. I am quickly filled with a strong urge to trespass our rules of anonymity, leave directly for the girl’s home, and get her away from her father. Of course, I suppress this urge and instead I try to create a safe and trusting room, hoping that she may feel like stopping by again, and maybe, down the road, feel ready to act. I have to respect the fact that she very likely still cares for her father even though he hurts her.
With a pounding heart and sweaty palms – we must act
However, the chat takes a sudden turn when the girl tells us that the abuse takes place practically everyday, and the father often invites his friends over at night to get wasted and ‘do stuff’ to her. The paid pedagogical employee, who is coordinator this friday, has followed this chat session from the sideline, and together we assess that it is insufficient just to talk to the girl about how she feels, because her life may be in danger. Action is needed. The next 45 minutes feel like an eternity. My heart is pounding, and my palms are sweaty, as the girl calls her teacher and explains her situation at home. I try to calm her while we wait for her teacher to come pick her up, and we are so fearful that her father may return home. The time seems endless, and I cannot do anything but hope that the teacher actually shows up, and that the girl’s father has touched her for the last time. I don’t want to let go, but I have to let her finish our chat so that she can get away from the house. I compliment her for her courage, and let her know that she is doing the right thing. And then, she’s gone…
It makes darn good sense!
I’m left with a feeling of having left the cinema during the climax of the picture without knowing whether the ending is happy. Unresolved, and at the same time, filled with a feeling of meaningfulness. I guess I will never know whether or not the teacher showed up and the 14-year-old girl got away from her father, but I do know that I helped create a room that gave her courage to speak up and take the first steps toward a better life. And that makes darn good sense!