Maybe you’re thinking about coming to Sexual Assault Crisis Services, but you don’t know what to expect. Maybe you’re just curious to know more about the types of people doing this important and difficult work. Ann Skirvin, LMHC, is one of the counselors here at the IU Counseling Center who specifically works for SACS. She not only does a lot of direct work with clients but also does a lot of work around programming on campus related to sexual violence. I sat down with Ann to learn a little bit more about her, her work, and what to expect if you come for a free appointment at SACS.
Me: Would you tell me a little bit about your self, just your individual self?
Ann: I am 43 years old, I’m married, and I have two kids — one in high school, and one in grade school. I love sports and I coach a middle school volleyball team.
Me: Can you tell me about your career path and what brought you to SACS?
Ann: I went to IU and got my bachelor’s in English literature. For me personally I was trying to decide, did I want to be a writer or did I want to be a counselor? And ultimately for me I decided counseling was a better fit. I went straight out of undergraduate into a master’s in counseling program at IU. From there, I worked in a psychiatric hospital and did the whole gamut of care from inpatient to day treatment to outpatient. Through that, I worked with kids who had experienced sexual victimization and then adults as well. I did my internship at the Butler University Counseling Center which is where I fell in love with university counseling. I worked with survivors of sexual assault there as well and I fell in love with the work.
Me: So would you just sort of walk me through a work day in your life?
Ann: So, I get here at 7:30 and go over notes and dictation from the day before, review those, sign those off. Then I’ll see clients a good part of the day. On the average day I’ll see between 4 and 6 clients, for 50 minutes at a time, or I might do a group — groups are 90 minutes. And then I’ve tried to get better about taking breaks, and taking time to: 1. take care of myself because it’s hard work and 2. do the kind of paperwork, dictation, meetings, report-writing…things that aren’t my favorite things to do. For me, my favorite thing to do is meeting with clients. I enjoy that very much. I like clinical work the best, so I do as much of that as I can. Half the year, I’m on call, so that means when I leave here, I carry my phone with me. If somebody calls the crisis line, whether that’s a parent, a family member, a survivor, emergency room nurse, the police or whoever, I answer those calls. That’s anywhere from 4:30 pm at night to 8 am the next morning. There are times when I am laying in bed sleeping and I get a call from the crisis line and it’s my job to get up, take a few minutes to wake up and get oriented, then answer the call. It’s important work and once I start talking to someone, I usually don’t think too much about what time it is. Debbie and I share the crisis line so that’s a responsibility between the two of us — one of us is always on call.
Me: Would you talk a little bit more about how the crisis line works?
Ann: There’s a 24-hour crisis line. If somebody calls during the day, the 9-5 hours, somebody from the front desk will answer it, and then they’ll contact me or Debbie and we’ll give them a call back between clients. If they call after hours, someone from the answering service will answer it, and then they’ll ask for very minimal information. Name, just a first name if that is what the caller prefers, and a phone number. Sometimes people will offer more about why they’re calling, but that’s not necessary. And then they’ll either just patch me through to the caller or give me the phone number and I’ll call the person back. Then I’ll try to assess what they’re needing in that moment. Typical things might be physical or medical needs, safety issues, emotional support, advice on how to handle a person or situation, deciding whether or not to report or go to the hospital or how to help a family member or loved one who is going through this.
Me: What are some of the best things that you like about working here?
Ann: My favorite thing is clinical work. And I really enjoy talking to survivors. Some people will say, that must be really hard or difficult — but I don’t see it that way. There are difficult moments, but I think it is important work to be there to bear witness to their pain. And I enjoy my role of giving them help and guidance and support through their experience. I find a lot of hope and joy in seeing people get better, and I see that a lot. I like reminding people of where they were when they first came in, and where they are in their journey, and helping them see how far they’ve come. And I also enjoy helping them take a very painful experience that I wouldn’t wish upon anybody, and find whatever silver lining they can. Finding ways to use it in positive ways in their life moving forward — connecting with other survivors, finding a way to use it in the career path, using it as a way to distance themselves from negative or toxic people, helping them find a sense of empowerment and agency in their life. I enjoy working in a college counseling center because people are developmentally in a place where they’re seeking their identity. They’re open to doing that work without pressure from outside sources. They’re engaged and invested in the process. I enjoy working here in this particular counseling center because I have a great director, and a great partner in Debbie, and a lot of support from the other people I work with. It’s a very healthy environment to work in.
Me: How about the worst?
Ann: It’s hard to see injustice. It’s hard knowing these things happen in the world. It’s hard making sense of why these things happen. Sometimes it feels so big that it’s hard to know what to do to make a difference.
Me: So knowing that it’s so hard, and it’s such a big problem, what does give you the motivation and hope to do this work?
Ann: Well one, like I said, is seeing clients get better. Two, I’ve really tried hard to identify like-minded people who are in a variety of different roles from students to other therapists to administrators — you know, people on the campus in student ethics, residence life, Greek life, professors or the prosecutor’s office and trying to get organized and join forces — that inspires me, when I feel lost or unsure of what to do.
Me: Finally, imagining that there is somebody reading this who is a survivor on campus and they’re not sure if they are ready to seek help, what would you say to them?
Ann: I would say…do some research. I would say read anything about this topic that feels comfortable that moves you. I’d say that there are a lot more people out there who are struggling with this than you realize and it’s important to connect to other people who understand and want to provide help and support. And if you don’t find what you’re looking for the first time, keep trying.
Thanks so much, Ann, for sharing your wisdom with us and for all the hard work that you do for the IU community!