Headshot of Erene Hadjiioannou

Erene Hadjiioannou

Erene Hadjiioannou has been nominated by fellow IWC members Tayba Azim and Dorothy Hodkinson. Erene says “I have been a psychotherapist since 2010 and much of my work has included supporting survivors of sexual violence and domestic violence in many different ways whether it be traditional client work with adults, writing, speaking, and community-based projects.

Two of my very first clients as a trainee were women affected by this issue, one of them being in a relationship where domestic violence was taking place whilst we were working together. I hadn’t planned to specialise in this area, but I have definitely been pulled to respond to the issue. I believe part of this is responding to the inhumanity of sexual violence, and the injustice of it too.

As such I have always extended what I do outwards in order to tackle this prolific issue as widely as possible. Again, this wasn’t a set plan or direction around this so over the years I have taken or created opportunities to do so. This has led me to become a writer, speaker, and activist on the issue of sexual violence on top of my client-facing work.”

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Who have you helped/who will you help?

Erene says “My aim is to support collectively addressing it in many different places, rather than simply being a problem that a survivor is asked to resolve in the quiet spaces of psychotherapy rooms. To do so would collude with the disempowering nature of the problem and continue to misplace blame, shame, and guilt for sexual violence onto the person who has been forced to survive it.

Psychotherapy is not an effective intervention if it is only offered in a largely inaccessible mental health system. This is especially true for those who are less socially empowered due to oppressive systems such as heteronormativity, racism, sexism, and capitalism.

I really don’t think the work I do would be worth doing if I didn’t also tackle the wider issue, so I try to get myself out there in many different ways in service of all survivors.

At this point, I would estimate to have delivered over 1000 hours of psychotherapy to survivors of sexual violence. I have also set up and run two community-based services in Leeds where every woman I worked with was a survivor.

Firstly, with female offenders at Together Women Project in 2014 followed by female survivors of sexual violence in 2016 at Support After Rape and Sexual Violence Leeds. I set up my private practice, Therapy Leeds, in 2015 where at least half of my clients at any one time are survivors of any gender.

My aim is to not only support survivors with traditional psychotherapy but to support others in my field to face the challenges sexual violence brings.”

What’s worked?

“I believe that change needs to happen from a top-down approach so lobbying to influence policy changes is a part of my work too. To do so I contributed to a nationally commissioned publication on working with women who face multiple disadvantages along with having survived sexual and domestic abuse.

I have also recently submitted a report as part of an independent steering group, brought together by IWC, which aims to challenge the restrictions on survivors wishing to access talking therapy whilst being pre-trial. Such guidelines disproportionately discriminate against those reporting sexual offences and exacerbate the existing barriers to therapeutic support.

Professionals and the public alike can be interested in hearing about the reality of the impact of sexual violence, and the issues caused in navigating the criminal justice system. This is really helpful in making connections within the systems aiming to meet survivor’s needs so that support and justice are more accessible rather than a privilege.

I am keen to enhance good practice within my field so I have also taught  on counselling/psychotherapy courses, and delivered CPD to qualified professionals. I provide consultancy to individuals and organisations on delivering services from a trauma-informed perspective and working with sexual and domestic violence.

I have had good feedback from teaching and delivering training from peers who have struggled to feel confident in working with such a multi-faceted issue. I also often ask for feedback from clients so that my work can best support them, and of course, it’s always great to hear when someone feels the work we’re doing is having a positive impact. There are so few spaces where survivors get to speak freely and be fully responded to, so I feel very honoured to do the work I do and to meet so many amazing people.

Having a carefully managed relationship between the work I do inside and outside of therapy rooms only serves to enhance them on either side, so that anyone I can reach is supported as much as possible.”

What have you learned? Any challenges?

“I have learned that we need to widen our understanding of sexual violence so that it doesn’t remain an issue that happens ‘to other people’. This includes tackling myths and changing the language we use so that we widen our perspective to truly understand (and respond to) the fact that anyone can be affected, anyone can be a perpetrator, and that sexual violence can happen under any circumstances.

Including survivor’s voices is key throughout, so I do try to provide a platform for lived experiences alongside anything I might contribute as a professional. My most recent example is interviewing survivors for a textbook I have been working on, so that their voices highlight what needs to be known within my field.

Challenges tend to be systemic, so making connections with lots of people in other systems survivors may use (criminal justice, other support systems aside from psychotherapy) has proven difficult.

Another challenge is the gendered way in which we have understood sexual violence, which is also a binary view of gender. We don’t live in a world where only men and women exist, so again having to evolve the language and understanding we have on sexual violence takes a lot of work.”

What’s next?

“Waiting for my book to be published! Hopefully, this will be in mid-2021. I’m excited to use it as a vehicle by which to keep doing the work I’m doing and invite more constructive conversations about how psychotherapy needs to evolve to meet the needs of survivors inside and outside of the room.

I will continue to provide consultancy, write, and speak so that services can better respond to survivors, along with work in the public arena to push back against the disempowerment survivors face in many spaces.

A full list of my writing and speaking work for far is listed on the Therapy Leeds website. This work includes raising awareness of the issue of sexual violence via podcasts, local radio, online blogs, and print publications.”

What advice, contacts, or resources would help you?

“I would like to work with other activists in this area and pursue further lobbying/challenging policies or law.

Why we’re sharing these stories

Each year, an individual or organisation from each of our five categories plus one exceptional judges’ choice individual is recognised at our annual Igniting Inspiration celebration event.

We publish each and every nomination to raise awareness of all the positive work that goes on in the North. While, this year, our physical event had to be deferred, our campaign to spread stories of positive social impact continues – good news is needed!