Erene Hadjiioannou has been selected by Inspiring Woman Changemakers as the winner of the Bernadette Mary Speight special award in our Igniting Inspiration campaign.
Erene is an Integrative Psychotherapist with specialist skills in supporting survivors of sexual violence, whatever their gender. Her work is firmly based on relational, humanistic, and empowerment perspectives to maximise the efficacy of psychotherapy.
Based solely in her private practice, Therapy Leeds, she is a writer and speaker who advocates and educates on the topic of trauma as a result of sexual violence.
About Igniting Inspiration
Until 2020, we delivered Igniting Inspiration as a digital campaign to showcase the work of changemakers in five categories, with this additional award named after our Founder’s late business partner. We also held an in-person awards event each year.
Going forward, we have decided that the digital campaign will continue, enabling us to feature the work of women changemakers all around the world and that one of these entries will be awarded the memorial award each year.
The assessment of the award is still based on the following areas: innovation, impact, collaboration, consistency, and personal growth. We feel that Erene’s work performs highly across these areas. In this interview with her below, we learn more about the depth of her work.
Erene’s perspectives on Intersectionality
Let’s discuss the additional barriers survivors face when seeking therapy
“I’m finding it hard to cope with trauma from a past abusive relationship. I’m looking for a therapist who can support a queer, neurodivergent, person of colour and am struggling to find someone suitable. Can you help?”
Enquiries like this to my psychotherapy service are not uncommon. It is no longer the case that clients simply ask to know your qualifications and working experience. For many, it is also important to let me know the different parts of their personal identity so that they can be fully understood and accommodated in therapy.
One impact of trauma is to force disconnection between parts of ourselves, one example being the mind from the body as the latter is no longer comfortable to inhabit. We can become disconnected from relationships, daily life, and spaces in the wider world for similar reasons. What is also forcibly changed is one’s sense of self, including personal identity.
Many people I work with cite safety, empathy, and not having to explain everything/educate their therapist as reasons to self-identify in the process of seeking support. Another is being let down by previous services who have failed to meet their specific needs, implicitly or explicitly framing their realities from lenses that make their experiences and selves invisible.
Mental health issues are prolonged, meaning the person and their corresponding identity become lost under their weight.
What are other considerations when supporting survivors?
For a survivor of sexual violence, anticipating potential and actual violations of the self are likely to worsen existing mental health difficulties. Outside and within the incident(s) of sexual violence that might pre-empt an e-mail such as the above, we must recognise that many survivors have lived experience of human rights injustices such as: racism, ableism, homophobia, and/or sexism.
This fact makes the process of finding support much harder than people from dominant groups in our society, namely: white, middle/upper class, cisgender, heterosexual, non-disabled, and neurotypical persons.
Crenshaw’s definition of intersectionality (2019) acknowledges that multiple elements of a person’s identity contextualises their individual experience. Therefore, it is essential to make space not only for a client’s presenting problems in therapy, but for this evolving multiplicity.
What else have you learned?
As a relational psychotherapist, I know that making contact with anyone can be terrifying when what brought you to therapy is harm at the hands of another person. Although we might rationally know that therapy is a safe space, our bodies may react differently, feeling stressed and potentially re-traumatised even when there is no threat from the person sitting across from you.
I believe what we’ve seen over the Covid-19 pandemic contributes to the increase in enquiries such as the above.
Firstly, everyone’s mental health has suffered. A report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (2021) states that referrals to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) increased by 94% in 2021 compared to 2019.
The Chief Executive of NHS Providers (2021) states that over 10 million adults are waiting for mental health care in the NHS. Within my own private psychotherapy practice, there was a 181% increase in 2020 compared to the previous year and almost the same increase (177%) from 2020 to 2021.
Tell us more about the issues marginalised people face
My human response is to feel overwhelmed at times because this is the reality of working in a mental health system that is not fit for purpose, especially for those from marginalised and underrepresented communities.
Secondly, within the pandemic, many people’s fight for their right to equality has become more visible than ever. There is of course the Black Lives Matter movement, the push for transgender rights (such as access to gender-affirming medical treatment), and the increase in the number of adult women being diagnosed with autism and ADHD (The Times, 2021).
Lastly, I cannot fail to mention the voices of people with disabilities who already knew what isolation and its impact was, well before it was a part of managing the spread of the virus on a nationwide scale. Before, during, and after the pandemic it is people with multiple disadvantages who are likely to continue to struggle to get what they need to manage their mental health.
We expect traumatised folks, along with their identities, to engage in a linear way with support services. Somehow we expect this from marginalised groups who already face discrimination, oppression, and disempowerment in everyday life to achieve this – usually within a mental health system that makes itself inaccessible with long waiting lists, time-limited therapy, and non-specialised support.
Therapists, the government, funders, and communities need to step up to the urgent challenge presented as a result of the above. We cannot stand by and watch the human cost of living in the world, with all its systemic oppressions, and do nothing in response.
Crenshaw, N. (2019): https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2019/5/20/18542843/intersectionality-conservatism-law-race-gender-discrimination (accessed November 2021)
NHS Providers (2021): https://nhsproviders.org/news-blogs/news/millions-waiting-for-care-as-covid-19-lays-bare-the-challenges-facing-mental-health-services (accessed January 2022)
Royal College of Psychiatrists (2021): https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/38697/html/ (accessed January 2022)
The Times (2021): https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/women-and-autism-why-are-there-so-many-new-diagnoses-kt5flkgw9 (accessed January 2022)