'You're not alone': Family Shelter offers free counseling services to help domestic violence victims heal

Sierra Rains
Hillary Carmona

Victims of domestic violence sometimes live in silence for years, internalizing different perceptions of what happened to them. 

Domestic violence affects millions of men, women and children each year and reaches across every race, religion and economic status. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma wants to let victims and survivors know that they don’t have to live in silence. There are free and confidential resources available to help them. 

Hillary Carmona, a licensed clinical social worker, has been working with victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking in both individual and group settings at the Family Shelter for around two and a half years. 

Advocates at the Family Shelter typically make the first contact with victims and determine what services they need, working with them to help them heal. Many survivors just need someone to listen and help them process what they've experienced, and that’s where Carmona comes in with counseling services. 

“With counseling we will go a little bit deeper into possibly the trauma that the person has experienced,” Carmona said. During counseling, she helps victims reprocess some of their memories and learn skills to help deal with those memories. 

“Skills with boundaries, relationships, communication, emotional expression, sort of meeting the client where they are and what they feel like their goals for healing are — the things that have been holding them back because of the trauma they’ve experienced,” Carmona said. 

In her experience, Carmona said pretty much all victims experience trauma, but the way they respond can vary depending on the victim’s support system and previously developed coping skills. 

“When it comes to the clients that I meet with, they have gotten to that level of feeling traumatized because of a lack of all of those things,” Carmona said. “That’s where we try to fill in those gaps and try to help them overcome what has happened to them, and explain that this is something that happened to you, it does not define you.” 

A lot of times survivors of domestic violence will not come to her right away. They think “I can handle this” or “I can ignore what happened,” Carmona said, while also internalizing feelings of guilt. 

“The survivor can really internalize that and feel ‘This is my fault’ when it’s absolutely not their fault,” Carmona said. “There’s such a shame with these types of victimizations that oftentimes people live in silence for years and years thinking all of these different things about themselves and what happened to them.”

Those thoughts can begin to drain a person’s self-esteem and their ability to cope with other life challenges, Carmona said. Over time, without counseling or help, it can erode relationships and overall mental health. Unresolved trauma can even leave tension stored in the body from flight or fight responses. 

Changing a person’s perception of what happened to them through talking it out and counseling can be powerful, Carmona said. 

“In this overall period of doing this work I have seen individuals completely shift the way they view themselves and the way they process emotions,” Carmona said. “That increase in self-worth and confidence really shines through after we’ve been working with a client for a while.”

Knowing that they aren’t alone can also greatly impact individuals. In group therapy, they are able to share in camaraderie with other survivors. “That’s just a beautiful thing to see, someone who finally feels understood and like they can share what has been inside of them for, oftentimes, several years,” Carmona said. 

Advocates at the Family Shelter try to figure out the best way to fit the needs of survivors with advocacy and counseling, and fill in the gaps of whatever is lacking in their life to help them heal, Carmona said. These services are available to any victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or harassment in Carter, Love, Marshall, Murray, Johnston and Stephens Counties. 

Carmona said the Family Shelter is able to have an even broader reach now with the availability of virtual appointments and support groups. The shelter has a domestic violence support group that meets on Tuesday evenings from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. All sessions are being done virtually at this time. 

The shelter also offers 26-week domestic violence classes that cover topics ranging from safety planning to the impact on children, and more. Carmona offers counseling in a completely confidential atmosphere. 

Services can be accessed by calling the Family Shelter’s 24-hour crisis line at (580) 226-6424 or through email at thefamilyshelter@cableone.net. Carmona said designated months like Domestic Violence Awareness Month are important to bring awareness to the services available to victims and decrease the stigma around seeking help. 

Having these months is a way to say, “Hey, look, this is something that happened, you’re not alone, we have resources, you can get help, you don’t have to live with this on your own,” Carmona said.