CVT Partners Bring Psychosocial Work to Ebola Crisis | The Center for Victims of Torture

CVT Partners Bring Psychosocial Work to Ebola Crisis

Monday, November 10, 2014

David Gangsei is a clinical advisor with CVT's Partner in Trauma Healing (PATH) project. David Gangsei

The Ebola crisis in West Africa has now been in the news for several months. Those of us at CVT who have worked in or traveled to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia see the ramifications of the situation a little more clearly than many. We’ve seen firsthand how these countries are still recovering from devastating wars and torture, only now to be re-traumatized by a frightening, insidious illness.

For ten years CVT provided mental health services to adults and children from Sierra Leone and Liberia who endured some of the most horrific and violent atrocities in human history. As part of this work, we trained refugees and community members to be skilled group counselors, advocates, educators and trainers.

These CVT-trained counselors then used their skills to launch independent organizations. The Community Association for Psychosocial Services (CAPS) in Sierra Leone and the Liberia Association of Psychological Services (LAPS) in Liberia have continued CVT’s work of providing mental health care for survivors of torture and war trauma. Now, both CAPS and LAPS are partners in our Partners in Trauma Healing capacity building project and we continue to work closely with the staff to strengthen their clinical skills and organizations.

Yet with the Ebola situation, CAPS and LAPS have had to suspend or dramatically reduce their usual services to torture and war trauma survivors. Instead, they are focusing on providing psychosocial services to the individuals, families and communities affected by Ebola.

CAPS and LAPS staff are now taking a leading role in their communities in psychosocial response to Ebola, using their counseling skills to support orphaned children, families who have lost loved ones, survivors who are trying to reenter the community but face mistrust and stigma, and people quarantined while awaiting confirmation of their health status. They are collaborating with government and international and local NGOs to train community volunteers in psychosocial skills and to support other Ebola workers.

As one example, CAPS staff are accompanying health security officials to quarantined homes to calm anxious residents and facilitate their cooperation. In the process, the security representatives are learning psychosocial skills in reassuring, comforting and educating Ebola victims and their families. 

I speak with the LAPS and CAPS counseling supervisors weekly. They report that although the number of deaths and duration of crisis is much less than the war period, some aspects of the Ebola outbreak are worse. People can’t see Ebola coming the way they could see rebel forces invading their communities. And during the war, individuals didn’t have to worry about being killed by their mother, or killing their own children. You cannot easily run and hide from Ebola when it’s in your own home.

It is truly unfortunate that some of the areas where Ebola has been most rampant are the areas that were most affected by war and violence. The wars have left an element of underlying volatility in the societies, which in the current crisis has even manifested in anger towards healthcare personnel working to bring the outbreak under control. Fortunately, many Sierra Leoneans and Liberians, including CAPS and LAPS, are responding to the crisis with commitment, compassion and energy.

Eventually, Ebola will recede, but it will leave an additional scar on individuals and communities trying to rebuild after the devastation of torture and war. CVT is working with CAPS and LAPS as they plan to address these realities in their psychosocial work now and after the Ebola crisis.


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