Overseas Services To Survivors Of Torture And Trauma, Adelaide, Australia
Torture and trauma counsellors working in immigration detention (or detention-like settings) work in a highly politicised and hostile environment. In practise they are separated from other service providers, isolated from their colleagues, embedded in a punitive culture of security and scrutiny, and confronted daily by harsh prejudgements and negative stereotypes of their clients.
Counsellors who work with integrity and compassion commonly find themselves frozen out or ground down by the system. Their experience and training is ignored, and their professional judgements and instincts to care for and advocate on behalf of their clients are continually criticised and invalidated, – often by people who have no training or experience in either mental health or refugee trauma.
Counsellors working in detention find themselves deeply affected by the experience of working with traumatised people in these settings, commonly feeling angry, frustrated, powerless, and at risk of burn out. In response to this, counsellors were invited to participate in a formal debriefing process that involved meeting in small groups with an external facilitator over several sessions of
2 hours duration. These group discussions had a dual purpose. Firstly, the sessions provided counsellors with the opportunity to reflect on the impact of detention on both their clients and on themselves. Secondly, the content of these sessions was recorded, with the intention of documenting and disseminating what was learnt from the experience.
This presentation looks at how counsellors have resisted this invalidation and maintained human connection, fostering hope and creating genuine therapeutic relationships with their clients.