This paper reflects on the practice of trauma informed group therapy with children of asylum seekers and refugees detained on Nuru between 2016-2017 and the outcomes achieved using the limited resources available on-island.
Trauma based group work was initially developed in mid-2016 in response to the deteriorating mental health of children on Nauru following the public self-immolation of Omid Massoumali. Counsellors soon recognised that the conventional approach to group work within the Australia context would need to be adapted to meet the needs of this particular situation. It was evident that our focus needed to shift from trauma recovery to surviving ongoing trauma.
The underlying aim was to establish therapeutic relationships with the children in order to assist them to create safety and develop skills as individuals and as a group to adapt to the harsh living conditions, build resilience in the face of ongoing trauma and to acknowledge their journey as survivors.
The program used art and structured play therapy to help children manage their trauma reactions and create positive memories as anchors. Careful thought went into adapting the physical environment to provide a sense of immediate safety and belonging, using various sensory and visual techniques that were culturally and family appropriate. Participants were encouraged to give expression to the internal/external struggles of their experience of living in offshore detention. Some activities were family oriented to explore and share their struggles, strengths and resilience as a family and rebuild family relationships. Culturally appropriate activities that allowed children to remember and revive positive childhood experiences from their home countries were also incorporated.
Outcomes achieved included a reduction in intrusive symptoms, improvement in their sleep, reduced frequency of nightmares, increased school attendance and an increase in positive coping and motivation.