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Group therapy helped me heal - it's why I created #BelieveYou bullying support group

Dil Wickremasinghe has found her way through tough times with group therapy and now wants to spark change with her own.

Dil Wickremasinghe Social justice and mental health podcaster of 'Sparking Change with Dil'

THE IRISH MEDIA, entertainment and theatre industry has been rocked by the global #MeToo campaign.

It is thanks to individuals speaking out and openly sharing their stories that the Irish public has become aware that abuse of power, inequality, bullying, sexual harassment, and assault are pandemic in our society. The new global #timesup campaign hopes to galvanize people to work together to take action and bring about lasting change.

Poor work practices often the problem

Working in media for the last decade in Ireland has made me acutely aware that many rules that usually apply in conventional workplaces for some reason don’t seem to apply to the media world.

The industry is notoriously known for poor work practices that benefit the employer rather than the employee thereby creating a culture of power imbalance.

For example, many journalists started out doing “work experience” which means working for free and in many instances, doesn’t involve really learning a skill at all but doing menial tasks like making coffee or running out for food.

Another common practice that seems to be rife in the industry is the tendency of not employing journalists but instead having a panel of freelance contributors. The term “freelance” would suggest that you are free to work for whoever you want but unfortunately that isn’t the case for many, as you are expected to remain exclusive to one media outlet even though they might not necessarily give you sufficient work.

Another downside of being a freelance journalist is that some media organisations feel they can pay you less than minimum wage because of the “exposure” you receive. As a mother of two, let me tell you that “exposure” does not put food on the table.

The shocking reality is that because of its fast-paced nature more emphasis is often put on the stories, rather than the people who are sourcing them. Yet another issue which adds to the power imbalance is of course the fact that the Irish media industry is minuscule and is unable to employ all aspiring journalists. This makes the lucky few working in media fearful to speak out when they are being mistreated as they may be easily replaced.

Inspiration for a space to speak and support

I recently interviewed writer, theatre director and producer Grace Dyas on my new podcast Sparking Change with Dil. Grace was the first to speak out against the former director of the Gate theatre, Michael Colgan. I was taken aback by the parallels between the media and theatre industry.

After the interview an idea was formed to create a space where people affected could find support, heal and feel empowered to speak out and become change-makers.

Inspiring change in self and society

In addition to my work as a journalist I am a mental health advocate. In 2006 I accessed the services of One in Four, a charity that supports survivors of sexual abuse as I was deeply depressed and was having suicidal thoughts on account of a traumatic experience in my childhood. For the first time I personally experienced how effective psychotherapy and group therapy was for trauma victims as it helped me to put words to feelings of hurt and shame that I had been carrying for decades.

When I met other survivors of abuse and heard their stories I didn’t feel alone anymore. I can’t begin to describe just how life altering and life affirming this experience was, as it helped me heal and go on to live an authentic and fuller life.

In 2011, my wife Anne Marie Toole and I founded Insight Matters, a mental health support service. Just seven years later our counselling and psychotherapy practice based in Dublin city centre supports the mental health of over 400 clients each week with a team of 50 dedicated and talented psychotherapists and counsellors.

#IBelieveYou support group

Through Insight Matters we hope to offer people who have experienced abuse of power, inequality, bullying, sexual harassment and assault in the media and theatre industry a unique opportunity to talk openly about their experiences.

The purpose of this support group is to create a safe, confidential, non-directive and affirmative space where participants can explore and understand how the experience has affected them. There is no expectation to share as listening can be just as powerful.

The group process rests on the belief that each individual has the inner ability and resources to move towards change and wellbeing. The positive aspects of sharing one’s experience in a safe and supportive group environment can help with feelings of isolation, provide emotional release, instill hope and ultimately offer healing.

The weekly support group is facilitated by two qualified, experienced and highly dedicated psychotherapists.

As a survivor of sexual abuse the right supports helped me understand that it was never my fault and when I recently witnessed victim blaming in action I was compelled to speak out. Although my actions had severe consequences, my own resilience helped me pick myself up and carry on doing what I love most – sparking change.

Dil Wickremasinghe hosts Sparking Change with Dil on the Headstuff Podcast Network and is co-founder of Insight Matters, inspiring change in self and society through personal development, psychotherapy and counselling.

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About the author:

Dil Wickremasinghe  / Social justice and mental health podcaster of 'Sparking Change with Dil'

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