CVT Uganda’s Trauma Counseling Training Program – A Successful Year | The Center for Victims of Torture

CVT Uganda’s Trauma Counseling Training Program – A Successful Year

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

This past year was full of challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, but great success was realized in CVT Uganda’s trauma counseling training program. The group of participants celebrated graduation recently in Gulu, receiving their certificates and enjoying an afternoon of music, speeches, music, dancing and fun. Click here to see video highlights of the day.

This celebration came after hard work, however. Students take either a one-year Certificate level or a two-year Diploma level course. The program is in partnership with Makerere University School of Psychology, and has been growing over the years. And of course, in 2020 it was interrupted by the pandemic, temporarily suspended in April, and then moved to a remote format.

The training is critical for counselors working with individuals who have survived traumatic experiences. Nick Opiyo, who completed the Certificate program earlier and enrolled in the Diploma course this year, commented, “I’ve been working in Uganda for a number of years, and I have seen there is a huge need for mental health services and yet there are extremely few professionals.” He took the course in order to help fill the gap in care for survivors.

And Joyce Laker enrolled in the Diploma course after several years of completing trainings with CVT. “The more experience I have gained, the more I get interested in training at different levels,” she said, noting that the opportunity to gain skills with clinical supervision was also of great interest to her in her work.

This training program started more than a decade ago, as a capacity building initiative supported by the Trust Fund for Victims (ICC/TFV). They recognized the need for improvement in the quality of trauma counseling services from its partners, and chose CVT to implement the program based on our technical knowledge and experience.

According to Gabriele Marini, field representative and psychotherapist/trainer for CVT Uganda, this capacity building program was unique for combining both theory in a formal training setting and a practicum of services provided by Gabriele and the trainees in co-therapy to counseling clients of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), as well as ongoing and live supervision.

Gabriele said, “From the beginning there were some core problems we wanted to address.” In those early days, there was a lack of understanding among NGOs about distinctions between mental health counseling and psychosocial support. Because of this, clients were often wrongly screened as being in need of material support rather than for changes in their thoughts and feelings. In addition, because trainees covered many different roles within their organizations, many types of support were combined together, which minimized the opportunity to focus on the mental health component of care. Rather, material, economic, medical and counseling support were provided in a way that limited budgets for counseling and subordinated it to a side role. With the lack of technical knowledge on the clinical side for things like goal-setting or psychological assessments, this created confusion in setting client expectations.

As Gabriele noted, “The services were not organized according to counseling efficacy but according to the need for those other principal services.”

In subsequent years, however, the training brought focus to mental health care, and it grew. More NGOs in Northern Uganda participated and the program became more defined and formalized in technical content. The training curriculum was then accepted by Makerere School of Psychology, a significant development. “My goal was to motivate my students and their organizations to take seriously the course, and CVT trainees to have valid academic papers at the end of the course,” Gabriele said.  In 2014 CVT signed a Memorandum of Understanding that approved the trauma curriculum developed by Gabriele and Paul Orieny, Ph.D., CVT senior clinical advisor for mental health, to be awarded as a Certificate from Makerere. Part of this agreement was that Master’s Degree students from Makerere would come to Gulu for internships.

Since that time, a new opportunity has opened allowing for Certificate Level training at one year, and adding Diploma Level, a two-year program. The new curriculum was first developed with participation by Luca Modenesi, CVT clinical advisor for mental health, and then finalized by Veronica Laveta, CVT clinical advisor for mental health, and Gabriele.

The participants have a close understanding of the need for this kind of training. Nick said, “I have found that when counselors try doing work with people who have trauma, they have all good intentions, but without this kind of training, they may not do much good, and in fact they can do more harm.”

He noted that he learned a new way of approaching his work: “Many things in the training were important, but one thing that stood out was to challenge the idea that the clinician is an expert in solving problems. As a professional, you want to fix things and to tell the client what to do. But that is counter productive. You need to connect within them, establish a caring relationship, establish empathy so they can begin to use their own expertise to heal.”

Joyce said that gaining knowledge and experience with clinical supervision was particularly important to her. “In my organization, I’m a supervisor to staff, so it’s important to me to be a better supervisor,” she said. “At times when I’m working with a client, I might feel unsure, or I might feel less confident. With supervision, I get empowered.” She added that the benefits of clinical supervision apply whether she is receiving or providing supervision. “In doing supervision with my colleagues, we discuss the work and all the things we can consider for a particular situation. We encourage one another. We strengthen one another. This brings confidence and it also gives the opportunity to tell others about counseling,” Joyce said. “It’s empowering. It’s more than just giving counseling when you talk with colleagues who are also passionate about counseling.”

Graduates for the 2021 courses celebrated in Gulu in May 2021, with a special ceremony and festivities. “This program makes a lot of difference,” Nick commented. “I am now able to help with confidence – I know what I’m doing.”

“This training is not just theory but real, practical experience,” Joyce said. “This course is not just a paper. It’s deeper than paper.”



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