Interview Date: May, 2011
Cathy: What is the program Donna Intera all about?
Joanne: Donna Intera is Italian for “whole woman.” We provide counseling and coaching services for women who have found themselves in a cycle of relationships that are repetitive. They may be going from one unhealthy relationship to the next and our program tries to help them figure out why these relationships keep recurring, how they can break the pattern, and gain the confidence to go into the future knowing that they can choose a partner and that the cycle won’t repeat. I facilitate that through one-on-one counseling services and through a twelve week program called The Right Step Relationship course which is a series of workshops that shows women how to form a healthy relationship but also how to pattern break. Sometimes we gravitate towards people who are quite similar to our parents or someone significant from the past. The course helps women look at their history and ask: why do these problems keep repeating themselves? And how can I change these patterns for a better future?
Cathy: So what role does faith play in this process?
Joanne: I work with women of faith and of no faith. I believe we have this fantastic story of Jesus speaking to the woman at the well who had had five different relationships behind her. Jesus spoke to her about that and he mentioned that something was missing – there was a hole. She was going from one relationship to the next trying to fix that hole. Christ pointed out that she’d been searching for something and made the really lovely picture that God was also thirsting – he was also looking for a real relationship of the heart. He engaged her and, I think, she realized that what she was looking for wasn’t in the relationship. Then a restorative relationship through Christ occurred. God tells us that he’s broken the curse – sin is very repetitive in nature. We’ve all got sins, attitudes and beliefs and through Christ we can have a new heart. Through the renewal of the mind we can learn new attitudes and beliefs that can help us learn to become whole people. Going into relationships we are no longer being driven by our brokenness or low self-esteem and looking for someone else to fix us. We can find our wholeness in Christ first so that when we are looking for a partner, we’re basing our decisions on common values, beliefs, interests and goals.
Cathy: What is the greatest blessing for you in doing this kind of work?
Joanne: I think it’s in empowering women - seeing women realize that they have choices and that they can take ownership of their relationships instead of feeling like this an area of their lives that is driven by Cupid. Seeing women realize that there is more to it than that. When women realize that they are loved and that they are whole, then they can have choices about their love lives. They can have a direct influence on their relationships for the future. Giving women the tools and skills to say “no” to abuse – that’s a real key one for me. I’ve worked with women who have been able to walk away from abuse and that’s what God wants from us. Seeing women set free from their oppression and into freedom is one of the best things I’ve seen in this work.
Cathy: What is the most difficult part of your work?
Joanne: It’s really hard to listen to women’s stories sometimes. As a Christian you can never allow yourself to get desensitized to the pain and I think that’s where self-care comes in. It’s really hard to listen to the stories of abuse and witnessing to the loss of hope when women go back to abusive relationships.
Cathy: So what’s one thing that you do in terms of self-care?
Joanne: Having good boundaries! Giving those women back to God – not trying to be God and fix everything. One way I work at boundaries is by going for a walk and really trying to be present to the world around me – the view of the mountains here in Abbotsford is incredible! Self-care is about putting the work aside sometimes and enjoying the great relationships in my life. My own journey out of an abusive relationship was a slow one and remembering that is helpful – there’s not going to be instant change.