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Advocacy vs. Therapy – What’s the difference?

By Kathryn Woods, CCASA Guest Blogger

Many people ask why survivors need advocates if they can go to therapists for the same thing. In fact, advocacy and therapy are quite different, even though there is some overlap.

Therapy is more about processing trauma. Processing trauma can come in many forms, but this is the area in which therapists are skilled. Therapy is incredibly important for many survivors during their healing process.

Advocacy overlaps with therapy in that advocates offer emotional support and can engage in crisis intervention, but there are a few key differences.

Campus- and community-based advocates really have three core areas in which they focus:

  • Crisis intervention and emotional support
    • Listening, believing, empowering
    • Validating and normalizing
    • Providing de-escalation when necessary
    • Connecting to other professionals when necessary such as in cases of self-harm
  • Resource education and accompaniment
    • Educating about processes – reporting to police, getting a SANE exam, reporting to campus authorities, getting a civil order of protection, accessing counseling
    • Providing neutral information about resources/systems so survivors can make informed choices
    • Supporting survivors in the choices they make about accessing resources/systems
    • When possible, accompanying survivors while they engage these resources
  • Coping skill training
    • Helping survivors to identify coping skills they already have that are working for them
    • Supplementing their existing coping skills with new skills that will help them manage trauma symptoms (e.g., sensory grounding, breaking down problems into manageable bits)

Systems-based advocates also have other responsibilities related to notifying victims and involving them at crucial points in the law enforcement and prosecution processes.

Advocates are most helpful when survivors are accessing resources/systems or when they aren’t sure what to do and need help understanding how systems work. Therapists are most helpful when survivors want to process trauma and/or are having significant and pervasive trauma symptoms or mental health concerns.

Both therapy and advocacy are crucial – but very different. Think about accessing both for survivors.

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