IsthisLOVE is an encouraging and safe platform for people who are in an abusive relationship, helping them to recognise emotional abuse and build the capacity to move forward. IsthisLOVE is a forward-looking service combining access to peer and specialised support with an active involvement of the users in their recovery.
Rosa Fernández Cerdán
Independent project
Prevention and early intervention of a hidden problem
This project is focused on prevention and early intervention of emotional abuse within an intimate relationship, which involves a person’s choice of words or actions to control, dominate, intimidate or degrade the other person. Despite being the most common type of abuse, emotional or psychological abuse is often hidden from society and most of the time it is suffered in silence. The vast majority of people suffering emotional abuse do not ask for help or, when looking for it, they face an additional challenge: most support services are focused on treating high and imminent risk cases and they don’t engage with them. But the first signs of abusive behaviour are not bruises, black eyes or broken bones. How might we help to recognise abuse and recover from it by giving support in early stages to cope with conflicting emotions that block their capacity to take healthy and strong decisions?
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The Service Concept: connecting specialised support, peer practices and motivational skills
IsthisLOVE is an encouraging and safe platform for people that are or have been in an abusive relationship, helping them to recognise emotional abuse and building their capacity to make healthier and strong decisions. IsthisLOVE gives them the confidence to talk and share their experience with abuse by providing access to peer and specialised support. The platform acts as a connector between a network of specialised coaches providing online counselling and the peer mentors (former users), who have personal experience of recovery from abuse and offer live communication. IsthisLOVE aims to balance support with active involvement in the recovery journey, providing a comprehensive range of training programs and engaging activities to learn the skills necessary to develop and maintain healthy relationships for the future.

The User Experience: offering choices and tools to design and control their personal recovery journey

Recognising and acknowledging emotional abuse demands time and effort and every experience of abuse is unique. Therefore, IsthisLOVE offers a delicate, flexible and valuable experience to all the users regardless of their circumstances (age, relationship status, safety conditions, social/economic/cultural factors, availability), encouraging them but giving them control to interact with the service in their preferred way. The offered choices are: 1 - Individual and group online counselling provided by skilled coaches. 2 - Live communication and support with a network of peer mentors that share their practices and learnings. 3 - A comprehensive range of online training programs to learn the skills necessary to develop and maintain healthy relationships. 4 - Engaging activities and events that take place in safe and friendly places, and meeting new people. 5 - Connecting and safely visualising the localisation of other peers using the platform. 6 - Setting goals and monitoring progress via a personal dashboard.

The Design process: embracing diversity and complexity

One of the challenges facing the design process has been defining the purpose of a service for unmet needs. The absence of services made it difficult. However, this triggered a feeling of doing research about this invisibility from a systemic approach by looking at three levels. A central level, understanding the journey of people who have experienced abuse and their needs. The second level, mapping the current public services and private professionals that support abuse in general. Finally, the opinion, awareness and myths around emotional abuse in the wider society. I collected the testimonies of more than twenty people that had suffered abuse and the experience of professionals including charity staff, lawyers, psychologists, social workers, trainers and policy makers. The surprise has been their willingness to participate. The lockdown situation has led me to explore and combine digital and physical methods, from collage to remote work sessions and interviews.
The Impact for: the users, the service provider and wider society
IsThisLOVE is a new generation of public services to tackle emotional abuse, in the middle of a communication campaign, and those services that prioritise support to high-risk cases. I challenged myself to design a service for that gap between “that works” and is “good for the user of the service; good for the organisation providing it; and good for society as a whole” (Downe, L. Good Services, 2020). For the users, the achievement is to complete an individual journey that gives them confidence and agency to recognise emotional abuse, take action and move forward. For the service provider IsthisLOVE introduces an agile and distributed support service delivery by introducing a digital system. The platform leverages valuable data collected from the coaches and the evaluation of users that has the potential to impact on the design of new policies and, in turn, visualising and de-stigmatizing abuse among society.
special thanks
First of all, to those courageous people that have shared their experience and story of abuse without whom this project would not have been possible. These are more than 25 survivors from different ages, nationalities, abuse relationship statuses,...etc. to whom I wish a promising future. Secondly, to a committed network of professionals and warriors that support daily victims of abuse who shared their practices and knowledge such as: Charity staff (special thanks to SafeLives), Psychologists, Lawyers, Social Workers, Trainers, Coaches and Policy makers. Finally, to my family and close network of friends and professionals that have supported me impartially in the most challenging times with their listening, opinion and dedication. And special thanks to my tutor, Marta Ferreirá de Sá, for the weekly support and wise advice.

students involved on the project

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