Growing pains: Austrian centre examines its organisational structure to cope with its growing client base

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a regular series from centres involved in the Peer Support project (more fully described in our earlier blog here). See other previous posts in this series here and here.

Peer support tag

In Arabic, “Hemayat” means protection and support. Hemayat is a politically independent and non-profit organisation based in Vienna, Austria. We provide interpreter-mediated psychotherapy, psychological consulting and medical support for survivors of war and torture.

Working in this field means to be confronted not only with the trauma of our clients, but also with their current situation. The insecurity of their asylum process makes it difficult to create a safe space in the therapeutic setting. Sometimes it forces the therapists to fight for the rights of their patients to stay. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work, which forces them to live in poverty. Right wing parties and parts of society view asylum seekers as people who want to exploit the social welfare system. All this puts pressure not only on the patient but also on the therapist.

As an organisation, we are confronted with far more people who seek our help than we can accommodate. It has been like this for years although the organisation has constantly been growing. But growth also means that we need new structures. In 2012 our therapists, psychologists and our psychiatrists treated – oft with the assistance of trained translators – 692 people from 46 different countries.

When we received the invitation to participate in the Peer Support Project, we thought that this could be a space to learn about the experiences of other centres and how they deal with similar problems. We also hoped for practical advice in our restructuring. Once the Peer Support Project started, the project led our attention towards the topic of staff well-being. As mentioned above, our staff works in an extremely challenging field. To relieve some of the stress caused by this type of work, we held supervision on a regular basis. The Peer Support Project also introduced us to a new tool: the intervision model.

As we are taking the first steps in the change of our structure, we also want to implement the intervision model in our centre. In April, a meeting for all staff is scheduled to discuss the intervision model, and we hope that we can soon report that it is working. In addition, we hope that this model will help our staff to cope even more effectively with the stress presented by our work.

By Nora Ramirez Castillo (psychologist, responsible for the first interviews and coordination with therapists and translators Hemayat)

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  1. UK centre mitigates the impact of working with survivors of torture | World Without Torture
  2. Looking for humour and other coping mechanisms: from UK’s Freedom From Torture | World Without Torture

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