Reducing stress for care-givers of torture victims

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a regular series from centres involved in the Peer Support project (more fully described in our previous blog here). 

Peer support tag

I am the director of a rehabilitation centre for survivors of torture in Ireland called SPIRASI, and we are a participant on the Peer Support Project.

Last year, SPIRASI helped 600 survivors of torture from 75 different countries.  Approximately 90% of those people referred to the centre from physicians and attorneys nationally in Ireland are seeking protection.  SPIRASI offers a wide range of rehabilitative interventions including medical assessments, therapeutic treatment, social supports, education and assistance with integration.

SPIRASI decided to get involved in the Peer Support project because we all know that the stress and the very subject that we are dealing with — torture — can and does have a real impact on how we perform in our work, in rehabilitating survivors of torture. It seems that as a result we are mostly in a state of disorder and hyper-sensitivity. In the NGO sector, that is a very difficult admission to make. NGOs are under immense pressure to exude professionalism and success. Donors and other supporters expect very high standards and we compete against a myriad of other organisations for support for our cause.

Last December we gathered with our colleagues from across Europe in Barcelona to look at the outcome of visits we received by the Peer Support Project leaders to examine the impact of stress and to begin to put together strategies for coping.

I found the meeting exceptionally helpful. I was immediately struck by the fact that we were not alone in grappling with the effects of stress and trauma and that we all had remarkably similar problems to deal with and exceptionally busy schedules. The input from ANTARES, a foundation based in the Netherlands who work with international humanitarian organisations to help them address such issues, was excellent. They shared with us a model and tools to help with the development of policies and processes. The model provides a life cycle approach to managing stress with staff, with suggestions at each phase, from screening to post-exit supports. We are hoping to adopt many of the good practice guidelines suggested in this model.

I was also taken with a problem solving model that has been championed by bzfo, a center in Berlin, called Intervision. This model helps people with problems through a process that involves empathising with the problem holder, drawing out salient points and providing solutions.

Already the tools and mechanisms that we are acquiring through the project are helping us to become more effective in our work. For example, since the start of the project, we have begun a re-structuring process in our service provision  to draw our therapeutic staff more into the centre of our organisation. This we hope will build greater cohesiveness and aid in better communication. In addition, in light of the discussion on stress, we have looked at decision making in the organisation and have made some important changes by giving more input into decisions to the coordination team and changing our meeting structure.

We are looking forward to the coming follow-up visits and to working more with the Peer Support project team and our European partners.

By Greg Straton, Director SPIRASI


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  1. Growing pains: Austrian centre examines its organisational structure to cope with its growing client base | World Without Torture
  2. UK centre mitigates the impact of working with survivors of torture | World Without Torture
  3. Looking for humour and other coping mechanisms: from UK’s Freedom From Torture | World Without Torture
  4. How do we unload? Questions from treating victims of torture in Romania | World Without Torture

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