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Staff Insights

Working Amid Difficult Stories

Published December 18, 2019
Physiotherapy for Children

Shorouq Abadi is a senior psychosocial counselor, CVT Jordan.

I once worked with a woman from Syria who met with me for her first intake interview at CVT. I could feel her strength as soon as she started speaking – she held herself with confidence, sat up straight and she was very direct. She and her family escaped the war and came to Jordan, but there was a terrible accident that in resulted in several of her children dying.

I felt weak when she told me this. As a counselor, I have techniques I use to make sure clients are comfortable and are able to speak openly to me, but inside I felt very low. This was a very, very heavy story, and afterwards it affected me deeply.

As a counselor who works with survivors of torture, I have had to learn how to cope with stories of trauma and loss. I must always do a good job to help clients heal while also taking care that the stories do not affect my own life. It is not easy.

That day, I remember I went home to my two sons, who were then 11 and eight years old. I had no expression. I felt only pain, but yet I felt like I was walking around without any feeling. My boys came up and wanted to hug me, and I said “No, stop.” I didn’t know why. I felt like “Why do I have these kids while she lost hers?”

I still feel this pain even now when I think of her.

However, today, I understand from this story that while it really affected me, it made me stronger. I learned two things: first, that I don’t have to feel like that – it’s not my story. It’s her story. The situation teaches me how to do my professional work. I am a psychologist. I have to separate my work and feelings. I may hear another difficult story that will affect me this much, but she needs my support in order to heal and to rehabilitate her life.

And second, I thank God I’m the one to deal with a situation like this, and that I can be here to help a client. I say to myself, You are Shorouq, you have to help. Someone else may not be able to deal with this situation like me. She is safe with me. My children didn’t deserve the way I turned from them. They are my kids, but they didn’t know what I was experiencing. It’s my responsibility how to contain my work without affecting others. So it is painful, but maybe it’s good for me.

Clients have proven to me that it is not the end of life even when we lose a lot – life will not end.

I have been with CVT since 2014, after I finished my master’s degree at Jordan University and worked as a counselor in several schools, including a nursing school. Counseling is my passion. I love working with people. I was always a person who did not like working in an office on a computer.

I came to CVT because I wanted to work with refugees, with traumatized persons. But at first I didn’t understand what they were dealing with. I felt unsure, but I learned from my supervisors and felt confident after working with CVT’s clinical manual. Working with clients who have survived torture has brought me very heavy knowledge and information, but also experience and a way to practice my skills and knowledge. After working with people with traumatization, I’ve come to understand that my clients’ experience could happen to anyone. To me, this is a message from God that informs my own spiritual way.

The work we do is often very hard. We have to be mindful so that we do not burn out. And over time I’ve realized that some of the lessons for me are spiritual more than anything else. Many stories affect me, and I have changed very much since I began doing this work. I’m more respectful for all people, all humanity. Before I felt like I was closed off, but now I feel free in life, and I feel able to deal with all difficulties. I think I accept people more and this makes me more comfortable in life. I have the self-confidence to deal with anything today.

At CVT, when we work with people who are dealing with trauma, we are giving them new hope for life. This inspires me and makes me continue. For example, I remember a young boy who was not doing well. He had a speech impediment and stuttered. This was a symptom from trauma. When he came to CVT for the assessment, he didn’t say more than five words, and through the first weeks he didn’t talk at all. He was very, very shy. His face was red; he could not breathe when he was asked a question. But after support and encouragement, by the 10th session, he was talking very well with clear words, clear sentences. At every session, he surprised me – he was happy to come. With this boy, the change was 100 percent – his body language, his speech; he even straightened up physically.

We do an exercise with children called Queen and King, and we asked him to imagine himself as king, to picture himself on a throne. Then the group told him all the things that they like about him. After hearing from the whole group, he cried. He was so very happy. This was the first time he had ever heard these kinds of things about himself. He hugged me and said “I’ll never forget you – you changed everything in my life.”

Funding for CVT’s work in Jordan is provided by the United States Government and the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.

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