Dr Veronica Salter: healer, advocate, counsellor
WITHIN the first four months of landing in Jamaica, Dr Veronica Salter felt a connection that brought back fond memories of her upbringing in Ireland. So strong was her love for the island that not even the trauma of being raped in her own home was able to drive her away.
She and a friend had initially come to the country in the early 1970s with the intention of working so they could save sufficient funds to go to Brazil to do research work. Both were psychologists who had just completed work as researchers at the University of Oxford and the intention was to spend six months here and then move on. It didn't take that long, however, for them to immerse themselves in the lifestyle their time in Above Rocks, St Catherine afforded them, as they moved about teaching at rural schools and inter-mingling with the residents.
"It was fascinating because we were taken to things like nine nights and death rituals and birth rituals. Being a social psychologist, I really found that fascinating," she said.
What wasn't fascinating, however, was being gang raped and gun-butted in her own home while hosting a party one evening. This occurred just a few years after she had relocated to Kingston to take up a post at the University of Technology (then CAST), to teach a psychology course.
"As a result of that, I realised how badly rape victims were treated and I said, 'I am a psychologist so I have skills, but if I am feeling like this, what about people that don't'," she remarked.
The rape allowed Dr Salter to get a first-hand experience of interfacing with the public health system as a rape victim, and what she saw left much to be desired. There were no counselling services offered to women and other support systems were virtually non-existent.
"It was because of that that I started to get involved with working with rape victims, more or less as an advocate with a group of other women who were also involved and a few men that came along to assist us," said Dr Salter, who pointed out that police officers are much more sensitive to rape victims today.
The psychologist got involved with SISTREN Theatre Collective which at the time was producing their pamphlet "No to sexual violence".
Having earned a certificate in hypnotherapy and release therapy on her two-year internship at the Wellness Institute in Seattle, she found that these skills were very useful in facilitating the healing process as she counselled several women who had been raped. Through the process of hypnosis, she was able to get to the broken places of these women.
"I realised that the talk therapy wasn't always helpful. Yes people need to talk, really some want to, but some don't want to talk, what they need to do is to be healed. You can talk and all that's happening in your head, but you are not really getting to where the pain is," she said.
By hypnotising her patients, Dr Salter is often able to get them to reverse the negative views of themselves caused by rape, incest and other forms of abuse. Although this doesn't allow them to forget their past, it helps to give them peace and minimise the emotional pain brought on by their ordeal.
"If you ask them, they'll tell you 'I feel crushed; I feel crumpled; I feel broken; I feel like a part of me is missing'; and all of these happen when people have been traumatised, hurt and abused," she pointed out.
While hypnotherapists are often seen in movies swinging a pendant side to side in front of their patients while chanting, Dr Salter said this is not the only way to get someone into a relaxed state. In fact she rarely uses a pendant.
"Usually what I get them to do is to walk down a staircase or something, and as they walk down, they are getting more and more relaxed and more and more peaceful and more and more at ease. What you are trying to do is to trick the conscious mind to stop," she said.
In addition to hypnotherapy, Dr Salter also specialises in breath work and rebirthing, preparation for transition, addictions and weight management and womb cleansing. Womb cleansing is usually used to get women who have had abortions or have had miscarriages or stillbirths to heal from the pain and guilt of losing a child.
"It works especially well with people who have had abortions or stillbirths because often people don't have that much sympathy, especially in the case of abortion, and there is a lot of guilt associated with that. People would say 'why are you grieving, you made the decision to do that'," she said.
In addition to her work with SISTREN, Dr Salter also worked with Woman Inc, primarily counselling victims of abuse and training their crisis hotline counsellors on how to deal with these victims. She did all of this while working part-time and then later full-time at the University of the West Indies where she attained her Masters and then her PhD in Educational Psychology. Prior to coming to Jamaica, she had received an honours degree in psychology from the University of Hull in the United Kingdom.
It is through understanding the whole psychology of rape that Dr Salter was better able to come to terms with her own ordeal and assist other women. In counselling she tries to get guilt stricken women to understand that their ordeal had nothing to do with how they were attired or how they looked.
"Rape is a crime of aggression and power, it is not a sexual crime. It's not seeing somebody and thinking, 'oh she is very sexy, I must have sex with her', it has to deal with power," she said.
After spending 22 years at UWI , the psychologist eventually retired so she could focus fully on her own practice and offer her services to more women. She was also able to focus on doing more voluntary work and last year was able to travel to Indonesia for six weeks to assist rape victims there.
"Over the years, it has grown and expanded," she said of her practice. "I am amazed at the number of people who come to me for other issues, and it ends up being abuse underneath it all. They come for all sorts of things like anxiety, depression and then they'll say like 'when I was four or five this happened to me'," she said.