Looking for humour and other coping mechanisms: from UK’s Freedom from Torture

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth 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 hereherehere and here.

Peer support tag

Since my previous blog post, a lot has happened with regard to impact of the Peer Support Project inside Freedom from Torture.

My colleague Tony is preparing for his second week of training in Intervision .Shortly after that, we will host a visit by the programme trainers and leaders in which we hope to move the lessons learned through our organisation by offering training to key staff. Much more on that in the next blog post!

As we have a small team in our North East of England Centre where Tony and I work, we are very easily able to pilot different approaches to work. For some time we have been organising regular Away Days for both staff and volunteers. We have sometimes gone to a retreat centre out in the countryside away from the city of Newcastle upon Tyne, where we are based, and we most often use this time for reviewing and planning our work programmes.

As a result of the Self Care training programme that Tony has been involved in designing, which I mentioned in the previous blog. As a result, we decided to arrange a smaller Away Day for the Clinical Team – those working therapeutically with survivors of torture. I now see this as an integral part of the broader Peer Support Project.

After some discussion, we decided we would go to each other’s homes to meet and that the host would prepare lunch. I was worried that we were invading each other’s personal space and even adding additional stress to each other, but soon saw that we all enjoyed taking care of our colleagues by the simple act of offering food. We are open to moving to a neutral venue, but so far the positives of going to each other’s homes have been substantial.

By now, we have met in this way three times. Each meeting has been valuable. The sense of distance from work by being in each other’s homes has helped us to get a deeper connection to each other that allows an intimacy that is very important in helping us support each other.

We structure the time based on a loose version of Intervision, where each worker can speak uninterruptedly about the impact that our work has on them, the challenges they face and the detail of the therapy they are trying to achieve. In the end, questions asked and comments are made in the spirit of Intervision.

We have been able to share thoughts and feelings that we find difficult to disclose even to our clinical supervisors —while they are often very experienced therapists and supervisors with an interest in trauma, they usually aren’t specialists in torture trauma therapy.

We have discovered that we were frightened of hurting them with the horrible details of the torture our clients have experienced. Yet we were holding such material inside ourselves, and we were unwilling to tell even our closest colleagues in case of adding to their burden.

Now we seem more able and willing to share such material and also our reactions to working as therapists with that.

One of the numerous 'fancy dressed' Supermans outside a nearby hotel. The costumes that pass by our offices bring humour to FFT staff, in contrast to their work.

One of the numerous ‘fancy dressed’ Supermans outside a nearby hotel. The costumes that pass by our offices bring humour to FFT staff, in contrast to their work.

In one meeting, I recall saying that there are times when I feel like I don’t want to hear any more about torture for a day. One of our teams shared that they will often go for a walk along the riverside near our offices when they need a break. I often make an espresso and look out of the window at the world passing by, and near our offices there is much to see. Nearby is a hotel where many people, who want to go to parties in our city, will stay and they often wear fancy dress – sometimes I see 10 men dressed as Superman, or in clothing for playing tennis with huge inflatable tennis rackets.

That helps me to see the funny side of this world that isn’t tainted by torture and is a valuable part of putting our work in proportion, as well as encouraging a sense of humour.

The away days have helped us to become a closer, more understanding and more supportive team.

Next week, we have a further such Away Day for the Clinical Team. I’ll ask if I can take some photos for this blog.

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


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