It’s All about Empowerment | The Center for Victims of Torture

It’s All about Empowerment

Monday, January 6, 2020

Malak Al-Sarisi is a senior psychosocial counselor at CVT Jordan.

In my work with refugees, I see the progress clients make with healing, but also with the ways they rebuild their lives. This is meaningful to me because after working with many Syrian clients, I see that they found their way without resources. This showed me they continued their lives after losing everything. For me this was reassuring, because when I first came to CVT, I was holding very heavy questions and reflecting on myself – what would I do in this situation? What if war came to Jordan? How would I handle it? But because of what we are able to do to restore hope, I see their resilience, their strength, even if they don’t have resources. It helps me believe that if I’m ever in a bad situation, I too will overcome it.

Before I came to CVT, I graduated from the University of Jordan and then worked with an interdisciplinary team in a rehabilitation center. Following that I worked with autistic children in a specialized center for autism. My first experience with psychological counseling was at CVT, where I have been building my skills. Working with refugees, I feel like I have found myself here. I found Malak. I have always had the personality and passion to help people feel comfortable to tell me personal stories. At CVT, I can welcome clients and help them feel safe to share the truth.

Working here has been an important part of my personal growth. Doing this work is not easy, as the stories we hear are very dark, very difficult. Once I even told my clinical supervisor that I was disappointed working in CVT because I felt I was weak. I felt like I was holding the clients’ stories in my personal life. But my supervisor asked me, “Why is that weak? Why is that not part of growth?” At CVT, you feel the growth as survivors make progress, and you feel their stories. This is a deep part of feeling that you are truly helping another person. This was a turning moment for me.

Before I came to CVT, I didn’t know about war survivors, especially about the situations of Sudanese refugees, many of whom are coming to CVT Jordan. I gained professional as well as personal experience and I’ve been able to access another area in the field of counseling. Then I felt passionate to learn about other cultures – Iraq, Sudan, Syrian cultures.

As a senior psychosocial counselor (PSC), I do group therapy, individual therapy, and I do supervision for a team of PSCs. Because this type of work has a risk of secondary trauma for clinicians, it’s also important to me to be a leader on the self-care committee. This helps me support the team, and it’s also allowed me to observe more closely the changes in myself, my psychological state based on the stories I am hearing. We need to be careful about ourselves. CVT tries to help us. We are reminded that we need to not always be working. We try to take the opportunity to do things together as staff instead of asking advisors to bring self-care techniques to us. With this staff committee, we started to have activities for the team so we can focus on a whole team enhanced dynamic. We do things like having outside CVT evenings, spending free time with each other, even doing psycho- drama where clinical staff help reflect feelings we have related to our work with clients.

We are helping our clients make changes in their lives, but when clients talk about their stress and concerns, they don’t only talk about what happened during the war, but about the challenges they face here as refugees. In order to help them best, I want them to return to themselves, to find their inner resources.

For example, one client did poetry. He told me of this interest, so during therapy I asked him to write poems to reflect his feelings. He used them to reflect his feelings as coping skills. This client even gave a reading at an event.

Another client, from Sudan, was feeling discouraged and ashamed because he was experiencing discrimination here in Jordan. I shared the cognitive triangle with him, which shows how thoughts, feelings and behaviors are all legs of a triangle. Our thoughts affect our feelings, which can affect our behavior. This allowed him to see new ways to receive these messages from people. He said, “Yes they understand I’m black and think I’m not a good man. But they don’t know me. They don’t know my skills. They don’t understand the challenges I’m going through.” This helped him change the way he felt about the treatment. This was a way of re-empowering him. And he made so much progress that he helped start an advocacy group for Sudanese. Now they all help each other.

So much of this work is about empowerment. If you empower clients you are giving them everything – hope, strength, everything.



Funding for CVT’s work in Jordan is funded by the United States Government and the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.






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