: 2018  |  Volume : 16  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 278--279

Trauma at home: The importance of listening

Basir Ah Azizi 
 Licence of Psychology, Assistant Professor , Counsellor, Department of Counseling, Herat University, Herat, Afghanistan

Correspondence Address:
Basir Ah Azizi
Department of Counseling, Herat University, Herat


This short case history describes the counselling process with an adolescent girl in Afghanistan. It illustrates the lack of sexual education for children and adolescents in Afghan society and reaffirms that listening is the most important part of counselling. Listening includes showing that you believe the client, being careful with questions and giving the client the feeling that she does not have to justify herself.

How to cite this article:
Azizi BA. Trauma at home: The importance of listening.Intervention 2018;16:278-279

How to cite this URL:
Azizi BA. Trauma at home: The importance of listening. Intervention [serial online] 2018 [cited 2023 Jun 8 ];16:278-279
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Full Text

 A girl suffering from nightmares

Sara (not her real name) was a second-year student in psychology, an active and intelligent girl who was very sociable with the other girls at university. However, she never spoke to male students, which is not unusual in Afghan society. When she came to me for counselling, she told me she lived in a small rented apartment that consisted of just one room and a corridor. At night, her parents would sleep in the room, and she, her younger sister and older brother would sleep in the corridor. Two years ago, her brother had started to approach her sexually. It started with a bit of touching, and at first, she thought that he did it accidentally while sleeping. When it began to happen night after night, she became frightened. In her own words, ‘After two weeks, he was touching different parts of my body for about one hour. I felt frozen and locked, a human fastened like an animal that could not move or react. The only thing I could do was weep. Even that was in silence’.

The sexual harassment escalated into anal rape. Altogether this abuse went on for 2 years. While her brother had married and was living elsewhere now, Sara continued to suffer from sleeping problems and nightmares that reflected her painful experiences. I asked Sara about whether she has shared this with anybody else. She responded, ‘You are the first person who knows about it. Even my brother doesn’t know that I know what has been happening, I assume’.

As part of the counselling sessions that followed, I had spoken with Sara’s parents, discussing sleeping arrangements. They said that they were not aware of their daughter’s nightmares but promised to cooperate so that their daughter could maintain her mental health. The cause of the fears and nightmares were not discussed. As a solution, they offered their own sleeping room to their daughter while they would sleep with their younger daughter in the corridor. After a while, Sara invited the younger daughter into the bedroom and both slept there.

During the sessions with Sara, I tried, in line with the insights of cognitive therapy, to make her more aware of her fearful thoughts when she wanted to go to sleep. She learned to remind herself that where she slept now, there was no danger and that it was a safe place where no one would harass her. Day by day she began to sleep better.

 What I learned

The first thing I learned is that people, who at first sight seem to function quite well, may still be suffering from serious problems. Perhaps as counsellors, we should be reaching out more, explaining to people how we could be helpful. Sara is probably not the only Afghan girl whose first sexual experiences were abusive, painful and confusing, and who − for years − had not dared to speak about them.

The second thing I learned was that even people who have hidden their problems for years may suddenly open-up. In this case, a female student who had avoided males, opened-up to me, a male counsellor.

While I listened to Sara’s story, I was shocked. Many questions came to my mind. I think it was important that I did not ask too much and just kept listening. I did not question her about certain parts of the story and stayed with what she told me, putting my own curiosity aside. I was not intrusive and avoided any response that would give her the feeling she had to justify herself. I tried to make her feel that I believed her. Maybe that was the most important thing I learned that I was able to help her because I managed to just listen.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.