A Closer Look

A line of women file into the Purple Door Salon in Atlanta. They're warmly greeted by the salon's owner and his staff of hairdressers, makeup artists, manicurists and masseurs. The women are shown to the stylist's chairs, and as they sit before the mirrors the hairdressers begin to gently comb their hair.

Although women get their hair styled thousands of times a day in America, these women at the Purple Door have seldom experienced the pleasure that comes from a visit to the beauty parlor. They are all female victims of domestic violence, and they have made the trip, on Oct. 10, 2005, from various women's shelters around the city. For some of them, the touch of a hairdresser, no matter how gentle or well intentioned, is enough to open a floodgate of emotions related to their mistreatment. For that reason, psychologists are on hand to provide support for the women during their day of pampering-a Div. 31-sponsored program called Nurturing The Soul: Reclaiming Self, that sought to increase the abused women's self-esteem and assist them on the road to recovery.

This event, and a similar one that was held on Oct. 17, 2005, at the Britannica Salon in New York City, is just one many recent community-oriented ventures sponsored by Div. 31 (State, Provincial and Territorial Psychological Association Affairs). The division, which works to promote the interests of state, provincial and territorial psychological associations within APA, has the unique advantage of having psychologist members from every U.S. state and territory and almost every Canadian province. That and its ties to the psychological associations in those jurisdictions afford the division a chance to sponsor initiatives, such as the pampering project, that get psychologists involved with their communities in ways they might not have previously considered.

"The pampering project was a real convergence of religious, psychological and community approaches," says Susan Parlow, PhD, one of the psychoanalysts who volunteered at the New York City event. "It shows that psychological intervention can work in nontraditional ways."

Community collaboration

The pampering project got its start when psychologist Jennifer Kelly, PhD, a private practitioner and Div. 31's Diversity Task Force chair, teamed up with Ruby Shinholster and Evelyn Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Women's Organizational Movement for Equality Now Inc. (SCLC/WOMEN). Lowery founded the association to champion the rights of women, children and families.

The group wanted to sponsor a day of pampering for domestic violence victims as a way to increase their self-esteem, but Lowery realized, through her work with domestic violence organizations like Partnership Against Domestic Violence, that psychologists should be available during such an event. She enlisted the help of Kelly, who was on the SCLC board of advisers. They decided that female psychologists who were religiously neutral would be the most appropriate.

"Sometimes these people hate God, and they need a neutral person to talk to," says Lowery. "You need to make sure you have someone who is professionally trained and licensed, because once you start touching [the victims], feelings can come out."

Kelly contacted Lisa Grossman, PhD, Div. 31's then-president, to post a call for psychologists for the pampering programs on the Georgia and New York state psychological association Web sites.

Parlow, psychoanalysts Maurine O'Riley, PhD, Annie Lee Jones, PhD, and Susan Warshaw, PhD, volunteered for the New York project, and Kelly provided the counseling in Atlanta. SCLC/WOMEN worked with the Partnership Against Domestic Violence to identify shelters that had counseling programs in place, and shelter employees selected women to participate in the program. The Purple Door Salon provided stylists and products.

Success and future plans

At the salons, psychologists were available to provide support, counseling and APA materials on resilience, but they didn't force their presence on anyone, notes Parlow.

"We played a nontraditional role," she says. "It was important that we not come on as psychologists, but fade into the background and add a word or casually direct the conversation here or there."

The women were already seeing counselors through their shelters, so they had a support network in place. If they asked for more outside help, the psychologists referred them to their state psychological associations. "The women who are in the shelters have neglect and self-esteem issues," says Kelly. "They've been neglected internally so long that we thought maybe we can do something externally to help."

The combination of increasing the women's self-esteem through improving their appearance, helping them experience well-intentioned touch, and having psychologists available to talk about any feelings that arose proved to be a good combination, says Parlow.

"Appearance goes hand-in-hand with self-esteem," says Kelly. "If you have been battered or abused you are not focusing on your internal self or your external self." This project was a way, Kelly adds, of saying to the women, "Look at you, you're okay."

The feedback from the women was very positive, says Parlow. Some women told her, "I've never had anyone do anything like this for me."

The pampering project got such positive feedback that Kelly and SCLC/WOMEN plan to expand their outreach next year. Using Div. 31's rich network of psychologists, they have arranged similar events in Charleston, S.C., Birmingham, Ala., Jackson, Miss., Los Angeles, Miami and Washington, D.C. The division is also exploring creating a two-day event-one day of spa activities and a second day featuring motivational speakers.

"The women were given the message that their appearance was as important as anyone else's," says Parlow. "They weren't just victims, they were women whose needs in society and our culture were taken as seriously as other women's. It was a wonderful point of entry into revisiting their sense of themselves."

Further Reading

Div. 31 at a glance

Div. 31 (State, Provincial and Territorial Psychological Association Affairs) promotes the interests of state and provincial psychological associations within APA. It helps leaders become active in APA governance; offers fellow status to individuals who have made significant contributions through their leadership activity; sponsors programming at APA's Annual Convention to address issues of importance to state and provincial associations; and presents four annual awards. They are the Outstanding State, Provincial or Territorial Psychological Association (SPTA) Award, the Outstanding Executive Director of a SPTA, the Outstanding Psychologist Award and the SPTA Diversity Award. Three times a year, Div. 31 publishes the Bulletin of Division 31, which facilitates communication between associations.