“I can take care of myself better now, and I’m less afraid.” A survivor of torture who came to CVT Georgia last year for rehabilitative care made this comment during a conversation with staff and a number of former clients who got together to share feedback about their experience. Andrea Northwood, Ph.D., LP, client services director, heard many positive comments during that visit, saying “Clients said that after coming to CVT, they were no longer overwhelmed with feelings. They don’t feel lost.”
When settling into a new home in a foreign country after escaping from atrocities and war, many survivors of torture focus on establishing a safe home as their first priority. However, there are many additional needs that quickly become pressing, including rehabilitative care. In Georgia, where many refugees and asylum seekers have sought safety, CVT Georgia has operated a healing center since 2016. Clients have embraced CVT’s holistic model that incorporates psychotherapy, clinical case management and professional interpretation, an especially important service given that clients come from so many countries, including Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Somalia and more.
And because of the complexities of refugee life, there are client needs that go beyond the therapeutic realm into the area of advocacy. In order to help address these needs, CVT has introduced a new role at CVT Georgia. Darlene Lynch was recently hired as head of external relations for CVT Georgia and started working with the organization in February. In this role, she works on advocacy initiatives that will support human rights and the lives of refugees and asylum seekers in the state of Georgia.
“I’m here to help clear the path for survivors of torture so they can focus on their healing, not on the political environment,” she said. “If CVT can help push for legislation focused on the human rights of clients, I hope that they will be able to rebuild their lives more fully and feel welcome in the community here in Georgia.”
According to Dr. Adaobi Iheduru, psychotherapist and team lead, this new role will help survivors in their healing as well as with their rights. “Advocacy support has a direct impact on client wellness,” she said. “When clients know that someone is actively working on issues that pertain to them, this can decrease some of their symptoms, including overall anxiety.”
In addition, CVT Georgia has referred clients to numerous additional services, filling a need for many survivors. One client particularly appreciated that CVT had helped him get a lawyer – he did not have access to legal representation before that. “We heard about the importance of medical care referrals as well – these were community resources clients had not yet learned about but really valued,” Dr. Northwood said. “CVT made a difference in ways that went far beyond mental health care.”
Ms. Lynch has been busy since joining CVT, working on issues at the capitol including support to push back on a bill before the Georgia House which was defeated on March 30 – this legislation would have increased police entanglement with immigration enforcement in a way that would negatively impact many CVT clients and communities.
And what are the next steps? The CVT Georgia team is working to become a more active part of the diverse, vibrant community that is already here, with an upcoming move to Clarkston in the works. “People want CVT to be more involved, and we are excited to move forward,” Ms. Lynch said. “We want people to know more about CVT.”
CVT’s healing center in Atlanta is made possible through funding from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), and services are provided at no cost to the clients.