Leaving Isolation at Home – Helping Survivors Heal | The Center for Victims of Torture

Leaving Isolation at Home – Helping Survivors Heal

Monday, December 26, 2016

Berihu Hadgu is a counselor at CVT Ethiopia, Mai Tsebri

For many survivors in the Eritrean refugee camps in Northern Ethiopia, going out in public is too much. Many sit in their homes, isolating themselves, thinking about their traumatic experiences from the past. CVT’s work is very important in the camps, for the lives of so many who feel hopeless. When we bring survivors in to join group counseling, we begin to see improvements. We see the members make improvements in their lives and well-being, and begin to help each other.

After I graduated from university, I worked as a school counselor for three years with orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) and their families at an NGO in Shire, Tigray. I liked working with children – it was a good opportunity to help neglected and abandoned children. The work was rewarding especially when I saw orphans placed (reunified) with families and going on to live a happy life. I was very interested in that. I wanted to expand my experience and skills as a professional counselor, so when I saw a counseling vacancy, I applied and took the job at CVT.

At CVT, we work with survivors in several ways, starting by first conducting psychoeducation sessions to help raise awareness and normalize symptoms that many people experience. When people come to us for care, we do intake assessments. I appreciate this step in the process, because I find out what happened to each individual and what his or her symptoms are. If they are torture survivors, I listen to what they tell me and develop a specialized treatment plan. In many cases, the clients’ next step is to begin our group counseling cycle.

At CVT, my work with children is similar in many ways to my previous work with orphans and vulnerable children. The children come to the group counseling sessions at first with many symptoms from the torture and trauma they’ve experienced, symptoms like anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), isolation, depression and many more psychological and physical symptoms. But after the group sessions, I see them starting to make friends, playing games and becoming involved in other child-appropriate engagements. As a counselor, this makes me very happy.

During the last cycle, I facilitated a group of minor clients, all of whom were ages 14-15 years. Some cried at the beginning of the session. It was very difficult for them. Some would cry and not speak. However, after three or four sessions, they began to participate with each other. I noticed them trying to make games to help each other. Some clients even came together as a group outside the session – now the children meet outside of the group and play.

I remember one child who came to CVT after living in the camp for about a year and a half. He had left Eritrea and then learned that his father died. This child isolated himself. He had a lot of symptoms. He was crying and withdrawn, and he easily disagreed with his classmates and others around him.

But after the counseling cycle, he became very social. It only took weeks. At first he didn’t speak in the groups; he wasn’t comfortable or interested in speaking. But after the group activities and explanation about group counseling, he started to speak in the group. During the second and third sessions, he was already functioning better, and after a bit more time he was playing games with the others outside the CVT healing center.

It’s very rewarding for me when I see clients decrease their traumatic symptoms and begin participating in the community and helping each other. I especially enjoy facilitating groups because I am happy when I see the clients’ symptoms decrease and they begin functioning well.

All the work we do at CVT is very important. We make clients more engaged in the community. But the group facilitation is the most important – in the camps, there are survivors who are keeping themselves at home. After they join the group, they try to live a better life. They function well.



CVT’s work with Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia is funded by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.


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