Healing: Change and Progress After Trauma

Monday, May 14, 2018

Rosina Mruttu is a psychotherapist/trainer at CVT Nairobi.

I know that the work we do with survivors of torture changes lives, because the clients tell me this. I remember one woman who told me, “I felt when I came and I talked to you, I looked at life differently.” She said we brought a new life to her. Another client was suicidal when he came in for individual counseling. After the first session he said “I’m feeling hopeful now because there’s somebody who cares.” Even his suicidal thoughts were gone and he’s hopeful.

My work is about counseling people who have survived torture and trauma and helping them experience a new life – to help them establish a safe environment and feel there is someone who cares. As another client said to me, “Before I came to CVT, I was almost killing myself.” He explained what happened to him and told me “At least now I know someone cares. Despite all I’m going through, someone cares.”

In my work, I can’t make promises; I don’t know what the outcome will be. But I can help people think about their lives in new ways. This gives me hope.

Before I became a counselor, I worked as a registered nurse in Kenya for ten years, specializing in intensive care. This kind of work made me want to move into counseling. I found that I wanted to help not only the people who were directly impacted by trauma but also the people around them who were also deeply affected. I saw relatives coming to the hospital to find their relative on a life support machine. Even when I would explain that we were doing all we could, those relatives would still be struggling and trying to cope. I wanted to help them, to relieve some of that anxiety.

So I moved into counseling, including being trained to do medical counseling – training nurses, paramedics and medical professionals to offer better care as a result of counseling knowledge. I conducted many train-the-trainer sessions, which was very fulfilling as I was helping other people to help those who needed care. I believed in trauma work.

In addition, I led response teams in situations where trauma work was needed. During those years, there were a number of serious tragedies in Nairobi, including a school where 60 boys burned to death. We did critical incident stress management with counselors every day, and we supported parents through the horrific situation – these boys were burned so badly the parents could not identify their children, so they were buried in four big graves in the school compound. We were there to support the parents.

I was frequently involved in providing care after fires, prison incidents and other traumatic events. After the Westgate Mall attack, I worked for an agency to do critical incident stress management with Westgate staff in the aftermath of the attack. It was followed by the Garissa University terrorist attack, where I was involved in providing psychological first aid (PFA) for three weeks for parents and relatives who had lost their children. We took steps to help them normalize and cope with what they were feeling, especially after moving around dead bodies trying to identify their child’s body, and to educate them about things like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, nightmares, disturbed thoughts and other symptoms.

At CVT, we also provide PFA, and I have worked recently with clients in the Kakuma refugee camp where we are setting up a new program. Even though we were not yet seeing clients in our group sessions, when we learned that two individuals were feeling suicidal, I did PFA with them.

I appreciate the growth that CVT is undergoing in Kenya with expansion into Kakuma as well as new programming in Nairobi. We have recently begun offering parenting sessions here, which has really impacted parents positively. As refugees, parents are struggling with enormous challenges as a result of being in a foreign country and having to find ways to get resources. And they are dealing with the trauma from their past experiences. The lives of everyone in the family have changed dramatically. The parenting style they may have used in their home country can be forgotten. They may struggle to maintain boundaries with children and use shouting and beating as discipline methods.

For these sessions, we mix genders in the same sessions, and we find that men realize parenting is not only for women. They come to see how both parents play their role. As one father explained to me, “Now I can help my children with homework.”

As a result of these parenting sessions, clients are holding family meetings and taking steps to change the relationships they have with their children. Through the conversations, they realize there are many other way of helping a child to cooperate, not beating the child.

One mother said to me, “When I was growing up, I was never beaten by my parents. There were many in the family, but the cane was not used. All the children were well behaved.” This mother told me she was beating her daughter but the girl was still not cooperating. The mother said she realized she was acting in a way that did not reflect how she was treated when she was a child. She said, “I need to start doing that. I can talk to my child and correct with love.” As the five-week parenting sessions came to an end, she told me, “It’s working; I’m no longer shouting or beating my child.”

Throughout my counseling career, I have done much work in individual, group, training, supervising and developing curriculum in the counseling area. My work as a supervisor is very important as well as my work with clients. Through clinical supervision, the counselors feel supported, and they enhance their competence through support and training. At CVT, because we work with survivors of torture, mentorship is key so that counselors can take care of themselves and prevent burn-out and secondary traumatization. With good coaching, they can work at a higher level. I even think of this as a way of doing succession planning – this is a leadership style I like applying. We must always let the work continue.

I see hope in what CVT is doing for clients in our counseling groups and individual – we help people discover the resources they have inside already. As one client said to me, “I have strength inside me.”

Their lives change, and it brings new life. I can see the clients brighten up.

All that encourages me, gives me hope. We will continue giving hope.

 

CVT’s work in Nairobi is made possible by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration; the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture; and the S.L. Gimbel Advised Fund at The Community Foundation – Inland Southern California.

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