Empowering Ourselves and Each Other: Safe Foundations for those Facing Domestic Abuse

Words and Photos by Marley DeRosia

Nowadays, it seems like the concept of empowerment has become a buzzword to improve women’s self-esteem or to help us ignore the negative influence of social media. But women’s empowerment encapsulates womanhood in its entirety: fighting for equal rights to education, demanding equity in literacy and skilled training, attaining rights to reproductive healthcare, and providing resources for women in unsafe situations and circumstances. 

How can women become more assured, confident, independent, loving…more ourselves? When women’s rights are being actively threatened and reversed, it is vital for women to empower ourselves and our communities. 

As a woman living with mental illness, I’ve found therapy to be an empowering act of self-care. It’s helped me through a lot: break-ups, trauma, finally finding an antidepressant that dried my tears. Even if you’re not a fan of therapy, these professionals have a wealth of resources! 

Meaghan Confer, LMHC, NCC

What Does Empowerment Mean to You?

Meaghan Confer, LMHC, NCC, MS is the founder of Empower Psychotherapy, a new online therapeutic practice based in Rochester. Getting this business off the ground was no small feat for Meaghan (she/her), but her ambition and resolve to care for others paves a path she couldn’t help but pursue. 

Meaghan began her journey as an advocate for survivors of domestic violence at Willow Domestic Violence Center, seeking to prevent it from happening and to provide resources for every survivor. 

“The most rewarding part of my work with any survivor is seeing them get the resources they need to reach their goals,” she explains. “Although every survivor’s situation is unique, there’s always hope that they can move forward—however they need—to feel safe and empowered.

“Abusive relationships are difficult to navigate alone and it can be tough to see the red flags when you are immersed in it,” she explains. “Seeking help by contacting a domestic violence hotline can be a great way to gain insight into your situation, learn about your options, and create a safety plan tailored to your needs.”

It reminds me of a BoJack Horseman quote: “When you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.”

At Willow, Meaghan served as a source of comfort, hope, and empowerment for patients in need. Trained in all client-facing areas, she worked the hotlines (text: 585.348.SAFE and phone: 585.222.SAFE), provided safety planning, crisis counseling, community resources (i.e., shelters), and helped with orders of protection via the court advocacy program. 

By tapping into a wealth of resources, Meaghan was—and still is—able to provide her patients with tools to give them back their independence, safety, and power. After all, empowerment looks different for everyone, and anyone can be the victim of dangerous circumstances. Knowing what resources are available to you can help you make the right decision. Therapists like Meaghan are here to advise and empower; not to offer their judgment and tell you what to do. 

“I’ll start by saying what I believe empowerment is not,” she says. “It’s not about having it all together or figured out, nor is it about being fearless or having 100% confidence in yourself. I also believe that empowerment does not have one look, but looks just as unique as the empowered individual themselves.”

Meaghan reveals that she struggles with a bit of imposter syndrome herself and tries to find empowerment in her daily life through therapeutic techniques. When she recognizes she’s feeling fear, she’s able to validate it, then remind herself of her successes. “Everyone has strengths that they use to move forward, it’s just about finding out and believing in your strengths.”

“Empowerment is about knowing you are worth the strength it takes to push through the fear, the doubt, the imposter syndrome, and take charge to create and live a life that is authentically you. Trust that what you need to feel safe/loved/supported/happy is unique and right because it is yours.”

From Willow, Meaghan continued to build her impressive resume and work with a variety of patients before she opened Empowerment Psychotherapy. Meaghan still works with survivors of domestic abuse, but she’s expanded her repertoire and serves a variety of patients looking for empowerment. 

Empowering Resources

While it isn’t the only threat against women, 25% of women will experience “severe intimate partner violence,” according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. So, what are the initial steps that someone should take if they are experiencing domestic abuse? 

“A great place to start is to reach out for help!” Meaghan says, hearkening back to the difficulty of recognizing a pattern of domestic abuse. “You do not need to be ready to leave the relationship—it’s a frequent misconception that you must be ready to leave to reach out for help or make a safety plan. No matter what you are experiencing or where you want to go from there, options are always available.”

Meaghan explains that all things dark thrive in silence, and the best way to let the light in is to break that silence!

Engaging with your community, your friends, and your family is another great way to seek empowerment. Meaghan recommends only opening up to trusted members of your life, and to take their advice with a grain of salt. Even though your loved ones have great intentions, they’re not professionally trained in domestic violence counseling.

“They may have well-intentioned, but incorrect ideas about what you ‘should’ do in an abusive relationship,” she explains. “As the survivor, you are in control of what you want to happen next, including when it happens and how it happens. You are the expert on what you need to feel safe and empowered.”

Meaghan suggests  focusing on what you can do or control, and use it as a tool for self-empowerment.

“For instance, how can you speak out against adversity?” she illustrates. “Can you volunteer or make donations? Is it safe for you to speak out or take action? If not, how can you care for yourself? We can’t change everything, but we can change something, and that can help us feel more in control of our lives.”

If you’re on the periphery of an abusive relationship, even the smallest actions can make a big difference. 

“Ask curious questions about your loved one’s feelings and needs. Questions like, ‘what do you need right now?’ and ‘how can I support you?’ can empower them to chart a path toward meeting their goals.”

While you might not always agree or understand what your loved one is going through, validation is key. Meaghan explains that by validating their feelings, you help them build the confidence to trust in themselves while encouraging them to keep reaching out for support when they need it. “Connection is a great way to help others feel empowered,” she emphasizes.

Education is key. Before you give out domestic violence advice, Meaghan recommends a bit of research to avoid potentially dangerous situations. If you’re seeing a therapist already, this can be a great conversation. 

Meaghan strives to empower every client she works with. When it comes to empowering our loved ones—especially the women in our lives—connection and community is essential. Let’s keep empowering each other. 

 If you’re experiencing domestic violence or want to create a safety plan, please reach out to the following organizations:

Willow Domestic Violence Center, Rochester NY

24/7 Hotline: (585) 222-7233

24/7 Text line: (585) 348-7233

Website: https://willowcenterny.org/

Services: domestic violence shelter, safety planning, connection with community resources, counseling services for DV, DV support and educational groups, court advocacy.

HEAL Collaborative (URMC, Strong Hospital) 

Phone: (585) 275-4325 (not an emergency line, open M-F 8am-4:30pm)

Website: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/mental-health-wellness/adult-services/outpatient/heal.aspx

Services: Trauma-focused therapy specifically geared towards interpersonal violence (violence by a family member or romantic partner), connection with community resources, educational and therapeutic trauma groups, safety planning.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

24/7 Hotline: 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) | TTY 1−800−787−3224

Website/online chat: https://www.thehotline.org/ 

Services: safety planning, crisis support, connection to local resources, information on your rights/options

RESTORE Sexual Assault Services

Monroe County: 1-585-546-2777
Genesee, Livingston, Orleans, and Wyoming Counties: 1-800-527-1757

Website: https://restoresas.org/

Services: Safety planning, crisis support, connection to community resources, information on your rights/options.



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