Seeing Hope in Clients’ Strength | The Center for Victims of Torture

Seeing Hope in Clients’ Strength

Friday, September 14, 2018

Amrita Chudasama is a psychosocial counselor at CVT Nairobi.

I started at CVT as a counseling intern, and hearing the stories told by the survivors was really humbling. I could not understand what human beings can do to others. Yet I saw that the person who came to me for care can still smile, can say thank you. It made me realize the importance of gratitude in life and the importance of being here for survivors. No matter how bad the circumstances, if they have a ray of hope, they can improve.

I started my counseling career here at CVT and finished my Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology last year. I went right into my Master’s studies from my undergraduate work and did two cycles as intern. This allowed me to learn to do group counseling and to observe and assist. CVT was my first choice for a permanent position when I finished school.

Before I came to CVT, I had heard of refugees and the situations they faced, but I was not exposed to the realities they face on a daily basis. Here I’m really exposed to the most difficult aspects of people’s lives. I took trauma and torture classes in school to help me understand these realities, because the things clients have survived are really horrible. The more I learned, the more I wanted to help. I thought to myself, if you have ability to help why not use it to assist?

Through this work, we have the chance to see that clients have made progress. They’re changing their lives and seeing glimpses of hope. As an example, one woman came to the initial intake session with me, and she was very down. Her life was not easy, and everything she had back at home was now gone. At the time of the intake, she hesitated to give me any information; bringing up these memories was very difficult for her. There are questions I need to ask as part of this initial interview, but she told me “You’re scratching my wound.” She didn’t want to participate.

But then she just came to the group counseling session anyway. There was something about her. Things in her life were so hard, but she was always smiling, making others smile. She was so different from the way she was at her first meeting with me, when she had so much anger and tears. It took time. In our group counseling process, at one point the clients share the story of their life, and she was able to share her entire story without crying. She made very quick progress.

When I met with this woman for her three-month follow-up session, she was doing well: her symptoms were reduced, and she was happy. She was so thankful for all that CVT had done.

In this group as well as many others, I see how the people in the group end up supporting each other. So many clients tell me, “What I’m going through is not as bad as my group members.” Sometimes at first, clients talk to me and assume I don’t understand. But with others who are also survivors, the clients see that they understand exactly what they’re going through.

All counseling groups are rewarding. At intake, we hear from clients about their most difficult, distressing symptoms: depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But once the group begins working together, you feel the change. I think of that saying that when people fall down, they can get back up and dust themselves off. But these people didn’t just fall; they fell deep into the murk. They were put there by another person, the torturer.

We have a saying: The lotus blooms in the mud. And that’s what we see. The process of change is very beautiful, and it encourages us as counselors. Elizabeth Muli is my counseling trainer, and she said to me, “We’re instillers of hope.”

We see the strength that emanates from the clients, and we are there to help them harness that strength and move on with their lives. In many ways, my role is to show people they’re better than they think. We teach healthy coping mechanisms – when people have been traumatized or tortured in this way, they lose hope. So we teach mechanisms to see the positive side of life. For example, we teach them grounding and breathing exercises. Most people take our breathing for granted, but when it’s done properly it calms us. When someone has been traumatized, the brain keeps bringing up the traumatic experience more and more all the time. So we teach them to breath and relax. This will reduce anxiety.

We also teach them about the cognitive triangle, which shows the relationships among our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. We help clients understand that if they can change their thoughts, they can change the way they feel. For example, if they focus on negative thoughts, that will lead to negative feelings, which can then lead to negative behavior. So we help them work on thinking of something positive, so then their behavior becomes positive. Repeatedly telling yourself something positive is a very helpful technique for clients.

I see so much hope especially with clients – their situation isn’t good, but they listen, they come to group sessions, and they stay hopeful. I know they’re getting help. It’s very meaningful. I can see that they know things are going to be better – that’s when you really see hope. Everything is going against them, but they’re looking forward to a brighter future. In so many cases with clients, instead of us helping them only, they teach us about life.

What CVT is doing is great. Before, I’d been working with a general population, but at CVT I’m working with a population that’s special. It’s rare to find organization that gives this same feeling and gives people like me the opportunity to do this work.


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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