Helping those who help victims of torture

Peer support tag

It’s probably safe to say that all jobs are stressful at one point or another. But, as one of the missions of the IRCT is to improve the quality of holistic rehabilitation for torture victims around the world, stress is decidedly a factor that can get in the way.

Stress, ‘burn-out’, or even trauma, is a great risk when one works in this field. Like many professions, staff can be overworked; but in torture rehabilitation, working everyday with those who may be deeply traumatised by an experience of torture means there is a great risk of trauma transferring to the professional helping them. It’s understandably difficult to distress after a hard day, especially when the needs are great and ever-growing.

Additionally, trauma centres have often come from a grassroots need, rather than traditional healthcare structures, says Prof Dr Christian Pross, a member of the UN Subcommittee for Prevention of Torture, in a 2011 manual on the issue [PDF]. While filled with zeal and purpose, trauma centres sometimes suffered from a lack of proper organisational structure, causing additional stress, friction and confusion.

Thus, enter the Peer Support Project. Based in Europe, the project aims to train and provide other forms of support to torture rehabilitation centres. To provide the best possible holistic rehabilitation for the victims of torture, it is simply necessary to ensure that those who carry out this work on the ground – the medical doctors, psychotherapists, administrators, secretaries, among others – that they have the stress management tools and needed organisational structures around them to get the job done best.


Representatives from partners of the Peer Support project met in Barcelona in December 2012

At the moment, the Peer Support Project is halfway through its course. The project kicked off in July 2012. As a first step, the needs of each of the participating centers were assessed. Representatives from the three partners that designed the project – the IRCT, ANTARES Foundation of the Netherlands, and bzfo of Germany – visited each centre and spoke to staff on the ground over the course of three days. What, simply, were the difficulties that the organisation and their staff were experiencing? As a result of the assessments, the partners of the project directly engaged with local staff (both management and therapists) in helping them to create supportive organisational structures, introducing new tools such as stress management techniques and intervision (this concept refers to have, within a team, inter-collegial consultation without an external supervisor) and assisting them in the ongoing process of implementing these tools.

“When we applied for the PEER SUPPORT project, we thought it a wonderful opportunity to address something that is at the hub of our organisation but which often goes unspoken. 

When I received notification that we had been selected for the project, it dawned on me that perhaps this was not such a great idea, and then when I learned that it was going to potentially add a lot more work to an already over-loaded agenda I wasn’t sure if it had been a good idea at all. 

The first day of the assessment visit by Winnifred Simon (ANTARES), Nora Balke (bzfo) and Helene de Rengervé (IRCT) left us feeling justified in the decision that we took. At the end of the three days I was left with hope that this project will serve us very well to not only become a healthier work environment but a healthier organisation. We are looking forward to the training and to furthering the work of this worthwhile initiative in the coming year

–      Greg Straton, SPIRASI, Ireland

SPIRASI, based in Ireland, is one of the six participating centres in the project. The others are Assistance Center for Torture Survivors (ACET) – Bulgaria; Freedom From Torture (FFT) – United Kingdom; HEMAYAT – Austria; Medical Rehabilitation Center of Torture Craiova Romania (MRCT) – Romania; and Parcours d’exil – France.

The assessment was just the first step. In December 2012, each centre sent staff to a full week of training in Barcelona. “Working together in Barcelona was very inspiring for us,” said Kristina Golona of ACET. “The exchange of the management practices helped us to consider how to improve the situation of ACET’s staff, even without financial resources”. Furthermore, a system of monitoring on quality management and intervision through video-conferencing is already on-going and will last throughout the project.

“We were looking forward to exchanging experiences and opinions with other centres,” said Cecelia Heis of HEMAYAT. “It was interesting to learn how they organise themselves, under which conditions they work, and which difficulties they are confronted with.”

And many other activities are in the works: a flexible network of organisational counsellors and supervisors, familiar with the special needs of centres working with traumatised victims of torture and refugees; further training for therapists on ‘intervision facilitation’, who shall then in turn train the staff from their own centres; and a final conference in November 2013 to conclude the project.

The Peer Support project intends to improve the well-being of the staff, just as much as the sustainability of the organisations involved. From now on, staff members of one of the participating centers will regularly share their experiences through this process. The aim of these blog posts is to inform others working in trauma and torture rehabilitation on the process and outcomes of the project and to make them aware of the importance of stress and quality management policies. The ultimate goal is, as always, improved care and treatment for the victims of torture. So, stay tuned for these contributions.

In the meantime, interested centers or individuals are very welcome to contact the PEER SUPPORT project coordinators for more information: Helene de Rengervé ( or Marnix de Witte ( IRCT, tel: +32 2 230 15 04


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  1. #1 by Refugee Archives at UEL on 25/02/2013 - 11:05

    Reblogged this on Refugee Archives Blog.

  1. Reducing stress for care-givers of torture victims | World Without Torture
  2. Lacking state support, Bulgaria centre engages in peer support programme | World Without Torture
  3. Growing pains: Austrian centre examines its organisational structure to cope with its growing client base | World Without Torture
  4. UK centre mitigates the impact of working with survivors of torture | World Without Torture
  5. Looking for humour and other coping mechanisms: from UK’s Freedom From Torture | World Without Torture
  6. How do we unload? Questions from treating victims of torture in Romania | World Without Torture

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