A Counseling Session in Nairobi | The Center for Victims of Torture

A Counseling Session in Nairobi

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Paul Orieny, Ph.D., LMFT is a clinical advisor with CVT.


Earlier in the summer, I visited our Nairobi project to check in on our clinical work.  One day, I joined a men’s counseling group for their second session. It’s a group of gentlemen – from teenagers to 70-year-olds and all ranges of profession. These men are Rwandese, Burundi and Congolese, and it’s amazing how they have come together.

Two counselors, Sophie and Kefa, were running the  men’s group.  And we have a very talented interpreter who speaks Swahili, a Congolese language, Lingala, Kirundi, and Kinyarwanda. He’s very committed to working with us and is part of the team.

Sophie and Kefa first reviewed what they covered the previous week, and then introduced the topic for the day: talking about joys before the war and trauma happened. It looks like a simple session, but it’s tricky because there’s no singular moment of joy for these people. It’s the daily joyful moments that bring in all of the sadness. The counselors gave sheets of paper to the men to draw their moments of joy and encourage whatever they can do.

Its really interesting how they think of those moments – not any big events, but small moments. After the drawing, they get the opportunity to share.  But it’s really hard for them to think about those moments without going into the losses.  They might say things like, “I had a house that was close to a major road. It was really peaceful in in the morning, but I lost it. Now we’re refugees in Kenya living in slums. ” It’s important to just listen to them.

The amazing thing is when the group gels, a lot of light moments happen and you see the resilience. When I sit in a group like that for an hour-and-a-half and the men are talking about the things they’ve lost from house to food to the ability to wake up rested to the singing of birds rather than the chaos of a city, it’s all very sobering. All of this comes up in group. But in the end, it feels really good.

Finally, at the end of the session, we talked about what will happen the next week. We ended with a snack and some chit-chat and they left at their leisure. Sometimes we have to nudge them out of the room so the next group can come in, but it’s good that they like to stay because then we know they are on the way to healing.


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