Balance and Healing for Survivors of Torture and Trauma | The Center for Victims of Torture

Balance and Healing for Survivors of Torture and Trauma

Friday, November 18, 2016

Haftay Hindeya Reda is a counselor at CVT Ethiopia, Mai Tsebri

Early in our 10-week counseling cycle, we ask clients to remember and share a moment of joy with the group. We ask them for a simple story from the past, perhaps a memory from childhood, maybe something playful that happened on the playground. For survivors of torture and traumatic experiences, this type of speaking is not always comfortable. Some clients cannot participate. When that happens, we meet individually. I explain that this is one technique for processing trauma. It is a beginning for healing.

Before I came to CVT I worked as a teacher for a number of years in primary school and as an instructor in Teachers’ Education College. Then, I gained my Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Addis Ababa University. During my Masters’ studies, CVT came to the campus and invited clinical psychology students for internships. I was interested in the work, so I took a position as an intern at CVT’s center. When a counselor position opened two years ago, I applied and took that role.

My studies focused on trauma and its impact on children’s emotional adjustment and social competency. I wanted work where I was helping people who are trauma survivors. I have empathy for these people who have so much going on in their minds – the things that happened to them were not their fault. It has always been important to me to work restoring people who are trauma survivors.

I had a lot of exposure to children as a teacher, and it was part of my role to get information from the students. Many of them had survived difficult challenges before they came to the school. They had low social competency. Even as a teacher, I worked to help them with their emotional well-being.

When I interned for CVT, I got exposure to working and helping torture survivors. I conducted intakes for clients and worked on sensitization events in the community, during which we educate the community about the effects of trauma and different coping mechanisms. Moreover, I attended as an observer in group counseling. As an intern conducting the intake assessments and attending group counseling, I had the chance to learn practically about doing assessment, conceptualizing clients’ cases, facilitating group counseling, and exploring or processing trauma. This was beneficial exposure for me as a student.

Now as a counselor, I conduct many intakes and psychoeducation sessions, prepare treatment plans of clients, and develop progress notes of each session after group therapy. I run group counseling sessions on a continuous basis, always working to have the most effective techniques.

The most important thing about my work is supporting people who have survived trauma. Seeing them function independently after termination of counseling is important to me. For example, in a recent case a client had experienced many challenges before coming to the refugee camp in Ethiopia. He had been imprisoned and forced into conscription in the national military in Eritrea. He started in the group sessions, but was not comfortable sharing with the others. He was not willing to volunteer his “moment of joy” – the simple positive memory from the past.

There were 13-14 people in this group including the facilitators, and that was strange for him. It took him time to become comfortable. Gradually, he opened up. By the third session, he was willing to share his joyful story and begin participating. Before long, he was providing support to the others in the group. Today he has completed the counseling and found a job in the camp as a social worker. He is functioning well in the community. Before that, he was in crisis. He had no contact with his family, who had gone abroad and were living in Europe. He had no communication. He said “They’re not my family. No one supports me.”

Now he has good communication with his family again, with phone calls and social media. With his job, he’s getting incentive for his daily life. He has even taken his case to UNHCR, where he spoke about the challenges he overcame. He is taking the steps he needs to try to get resettlement.

In working with clients through the rehabilitative process, we help them understand their strength, identify the resources around them and process their trauma, and we work to create balance. We incorporate the moment of joy early in the cycle because it would be overwhelming for people to jump into speaking about the difficult moments they have survived. We start with this positive memory to help bring balance and help people practice regulating their emotions.

During the 4th session we do an exercise called the “river of life.” This exercise gives clients a chance to put both difficult and joyful moments in chronological order, noting the time they occurred in their lives. Showing the positive moments along with the difficult times gives people who have been suffering from trauma the understanding and reminder that they were happy people. They get to see a more complete picture of their life.

Seeing people functioning again in the community after their counseling is very rewarding to me. I remember one woman who faced a lot of challenges. She came to CVT and after some group sessions, she was already functioning well. After she completed the cycle, she was even able to find work.

Hope comes after clients have come to CVT. They need us to heal. This gives a lot of hope to me. We all have possibilities. It sometimes seems as if the clients cannot move past their difficult moments and losses. But after the sessions, they get hope. At one point, we have them draw themselves as a tree, with strong roots and a branching network of support and positive qualities. The tree gives them a good opportunity to see their future – they can see themselves as this tree.

CVT is supporting people, survivors of trauma and torture. This is a good thing in the camp. If we try to heal people, we are bringing a bright thing, a hopeful thing in this refugee camp.



CVT’s work with Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia is funded by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.



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