Salon workers as counsellors? A new tactic to fight abuse

Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region is seeking salon and spa specialists to undertake training in counselling as part of a program aimed at combating domestic abuse.
Tamara McBride signed up the whole staff at her Kitchener salon, House of Angels Spa, for the Cut It Out Program. The program trains salon workers to spot signs of domestic abuse and respond. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region is seeking salon and spa specialists to be trained to help combat domestic abuse.

The program, called Cut It Out, is modeled on an initiative that originated in the United States, and will launch in November in Waterloo Region.

Organizers say salon and spa workers often become confidantes of their clients. Cut it Out provides training and resources to aestheticians so they can help clients who exhibit signs of domestic abuse.

Tamara McBride has already signed up her award-winning spa, House of Angels, to participate in the program. The Kitchener salon is located across the street from the women’s shelter Anselma House, where McBride lived for a stint more than 30 years ago.  

"I was a single mom for many years and that's where I was and now I have a business across the street from it. So I think it reminds you that you have to go full circle."

McBride said the amount of time spent with clients and the frequency of visits makes aestheticians easy to confide in.

"When I go into the back room with a client, be it waxing or facial or a massage then they have my undivided attention. And if there's something that's really heavy on their heart then they can share that."

“[Clients] need somebody who is connected, that isn’t going to make a judgment on them,” McBride said. 

“Sometimes you get a first-time client and the first time they come in they dump their heart out to you. And I think it’s because when you touch somebody, right away you can tell – you can tell when someone touches you, whether they're kind and loving and really care about you.”

Staff to learn domestic abuse warning signs

While McBride said she tries to help clients as much as possible, it's overwhelming at times.

"The one that distressed me the most is a woman who felt like she was stuck in a situation and I was afraid for her life," said McBride.

"He was violent and did really cruel things to her. I would go home and cry at night because I thought 'I can't help her'."

Women's Crisis Services of Waterloo Region says the training will show salon and spa staff what resources are available for their clients and how to put them in touch with different levels of support.

The hour-long seminar isn't designed to turn stylists into counsellors but will show them warning signs and how to help a client in crisis without overstepping.

While the program gets underway in November, during Woman Abuse Awareness month, training sessions for interested salon workers begin in October.

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