A team of trauma therapists from Richmont Graduate University has traveled to Greece to assess and respond to the needs of Syrian refugees and relief workers. Their mission is the training of humanitarian workers in compassion fatigue and trauma and also counseling families at the detention camp in Lesbos. The following is a day two update from Richmont Alum, Liz Norris (’13) LAPC.
Day 2- Lesbos, Greece
We arrived in Moria around 10am to meet up with the counseling team from yesterday expecting to do a trauma group with some of the Syrian women. We learned that many Middle Eastern cultures stay up late into the night and do not awake until late morning. The children, however, were awake and full of energy. Instead of working with the women, a few of us led a group with young boys, while the rest of us jumped in to help volunteers, young girls, and a few of the older men clean their housing.
That’s when I saw Achmed, a little boy about 4 years old. He stood there holding a tennis ball, as he watched an elderly gentlemen pressure wash the housing walls. I walked over to him, bent down, making the gesture for him to toss me the ball. It wasn’t long before he had taken to me. He had my full attention and he knew it. After about 30 minutes of playing, he jumped into my arms, gave me a big hug, and giggled with pleasure.
As we wrapped up the cleaning time, we began a conversation with the elderly gentleman who had been pressure washing and seemed to be a leader on the housing level. He spoke no English, so we were thankful, yet again, that our teammate, Mary, could interpret. Dr. Snyder and Mary spoke to this man who was imprisoned by ISIS and had lost his wife in the crisis. Dr. Slater and I began a conversation with a man nearing 50 years of age, who spoke broken English and was a business owner and entrepreneur in Syria. He shared his journey of torture by ISIS and his pain for what he had seen. He shared tremendous loss, not only what the men in his country experienced at the hands of ISIS, but was profoundly grieved and traumatized by watching the women in the hands of their captors.
Counseling looks different here. With the little kiddos, it looks like full attention, play, hugs, and when possible, a conversation about their experiences as we try to give them an outlet and tools to regulate their emotions. We have even been able to have a few groups with adolescents as well. With adults, it has looked like random, impromptu counseling sessions, with 1 or 2 counselors and an interpreter; we hear their stories, validate emotional experience, and provide tools to regulate emotions. The tricky part about counseling through an interpreter is that the interpreter is actually the one connected to the client. So, the counselor has to stay as connected to the interpreter as much as possible, while also picking up on the gestures, body language, and tone of voice of the client. Thankfully, we have the Holy Spirit who intercedes on our behalf and guides us in all of these endeavors.
We have heard many hard stories today- from the individual counseling sessions, groups, and the stories of the volunteers. As stated in the post from yesterday, the volunteers, on average, are in their mid twenties. They are young. It is clear that most of them lack the tools to take care of themselves and process all that comes from working with traumatized populations. We believe that a large part of our job in the camp is to equip the volunteers. Many of them come for months at a time. If we can give them tools for better self-care and emotion regulation, the healthier they will be and the more present they can be with the refugees.
Like good counselors, we debriefed the day by each sharing the thoughts and feelings of our experiences. Sometimes it’s hard to attach meaning to what we are experiencing. The debrief time gives permission for things just to seem the way they seem and feel the way they feel, with no pressure to attach meaning. Thankfully, we are not only a team that is able to share the hard stuff, we are also a team who can laugh together.