UK centre mitigates the impact of working with survivors of torture

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth 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 herehere and here.

Peer support tag

I work for Freedom from Torture (previously known as the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture) as Manager of our centre in the North East of England in Newcastle upon Tyne.  We have a big centre in London and others that are smaller around the country in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow.  More than 50,000 survivors of torture have been helped since we started our work over 25 years ago. We employ about 170 staff (the majority are part-time) and are delighted to have about the same number of volunteers working with us.

We have been developing a training programme for staff on Self Care recently. Tony Wright, who is in my team in the North East Centre, was involved in its design and delivery. Tony is a therapist who also leads training initiatives for us in the North East. The Self Care programme is designed to help staff know more about how working with survivors of torture — hearing their stories, feeling their distress, typing reports documenting torture — impacts on each member of staff. With greater understanding and greater awareness of the damage that can be done to staff, the programme then encourages staff to reflect on how they can be healthier in the work.

When we heard of the Peer Support Project, we were both very interested to be involved. As the Centre Manager, I am also a therapist and am part of the National Clinical Secretariat that oversees clinical issues in the organisation. Taking care of our clients means taking care of each other. If we are not healthy and working to our best we cannot support our clients through the terrible traumas they have experienced. It was a really valuable addition that Celine Conaghan, our Human Resources Manager, was also keen to join the Peer Support project team.

We learned a lot in the week in Barcelona – the trainers worked us pretty hard – and we began to think differently about how to organise ourselves to help each other better. Having the chance to talk with staff in other organisations across Europe was really valuable. It gave us ideas and perspectives that we did not expect. Hearing about the Intervision approach and discussing how others have applied it, made us interested in applying it to our own context.

We did manage to have a little time away from the subject of Peer Support project and many of us went to la Sagrada Família, the amazing church designed by the architect Gaudi. Attached are a couple of photos from our visit there – the light flooding into the building through the stained glass is astonishing.

We noticed a statue near the entrance that was very evocative of the suffering we encounter in our work.

A statue at the entrance of la Sagrada Família, the famous Gaudi cathedral in Barcelona, which reminded the author of the suffering of the clients with which they work. (Photo submitted by Freedom From Torture)

A statue at the entrance of la Sagrada Família, the famous Gaudi cathedral in Barcelona, which reminded the author of the suffering of the clients with which they work. (Photo submitted by Freedom From Torture)

Tony and I found the Foundation of the Catalan artist Antoni Tapies, who was born in Barcelona. One of his pieces of art, a rolled up mattress, reminded us of the experience of many people forced to flee their homes across the world to find safety, food and welcome and who can take just a few items like such a mattress with them.

Piece by Catalan artist Antoni Tapies. This reminded the author of the many clients who are forced to flee their homes with only a few items, such as a rolled up mattress as pictured. (Photo submitted by Freedom From Torture)

Piece by Catalan artist Antoni Tapies. This reminded the author of the many clients who are forced to flee their homes with only a few items, such as a rolled up mattress as pictured. (Photo submitted by Freedom From Torture)

Back home the three of us have carefully discussed how we can introduce the learning from Barcelona into the work of our organisation. In the North East we have established regular Away Days for the staff team when we can get away from the office and hear each other’s concerns and achievements also. Nationally across the organisation, Celine has sent lots of information around so that staff and volunteers are informed and involved. We want them to be as excited as we are. We are looking forward to the Project Support Visit, which we hope will be in June. During that visit we intend to introduce aspects of Peer Support to the Senior Managers of the organisation and to selected teams. By then Tony will have been on his second additional training on applying Intervision, and we plan to roll out that training across the organisation after that. Next time we blog we will be explaining how our Away Days are working.

By Alan Brice, Centre Manager, North East Centre, Freedom from Torture

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  1. Looking for humour and other coping mechanisms: from UK’s Freedom From Torture | World Without Torture

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