“My work is hard, but it's also inspiring - I see so much resilience"

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20 Jul 2018

Jude Boyles is one of the Refugee Council’s Senior Psychological Therapists. Here she describes the highs and lows of this vital work

As we enter the eight year of the war in Syria, it will be almost a year since I joined the Refugee Council. My role was to establish a psychological therapy service in South Yorkshire for Syrian refugees resettled through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS). Since the war started, 5.6 million Syrians have fled the country as refugees and 6.1 million are displaced within Syria. When I started writing this piece a few days ago, there had been a renewed outbreak of fighting in Douma and I wondered, as our clients do much of the time; when will this war end…

I have practised as a therapist for 25 years…

Since 1999, when Yorkshire welcomed large numbers of Kosovan refugees fleeing the war, I have had a particular interest and commitment to working with refugees. Before I came to the Refugee Council, I managed a torture rehabilitation service in the North West for 14 years.

This last year has been one of the most interesting years of my working life…

I have worked with refugees from countries where there is an ongoing conflict, but never before in my working life has a conflict felt ever present. This has meant that I have sometimes agreed that a mobile phone can stay on in a session because I knew a client was waiting to hear if family members managed to flee a region being badly hit. At other times, I have looked at mobile footage from the war that my clients have wanted me to see, usually the impact of shelling on family homes and the streets nearby. Bearing witness to the devastation of this long and cruel war is at the core of this work.

How we help refugees…

Our small service in Sheffield offers up to 12 weeks therapy for any Syrian refugee who is experiencing mental health distress. This distress can be related to sudden and traumatic losses during the conflict, or earlier experiences such as child marriage as well as torture. The sadness my clients feel as the losses continue is profound and I see daily in my practice how hard it can be to settle in a country that is very different. Systems are hard to understand, and the community can sometimes be hostile, but also welcoming and supportive. Many of the people we work with also describe living for 2-6 years in other countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq or Turkey where they faced poverty, oppression and lived in precarious circumstances with limited access to medical care and education.

Many refugees are settling well…

Many of my clients are taking up the many innovative opportunities created by the resettlement team as well as utilising support from their family, friends and community members. Many are working towards getting jobs, learning English and adapting to the shifts in family dynamics. Despite this, many families are understandably feeling overwhelmed and under pressure as roles change.

My day to work can be hard at times, but mostly it is inspiring as I witness so much resilience and dignity, a word that has particular significance in Syrian culture. I am learning so much about Syria. I am starting to pick up bits of Arabic and feel as if my skilled and empathic group of interpreters have captured the way I work and communicate. They support and challenge each other when we all come together in a supervision group and I can sense their interest in therapy growing.

The skills and commitment of our project worker colleagues means that clients usually come to therapy already trusting the Refugee Council and are confident that myself and the interpreter understand the refugee context. Therapeutic relationships feel as if they develop quickly and I have been very moved by our client’s capacity to explore what is causing them pain, often disclosing experiences they have never talked about before.

My work comes with its challenges…

12 sessions rarely feel long enough, and more time is usually needed to process long histories of violence or trauma. There are so few services in South Yorkshire offering long term therapy with an interpreter or bilingual therapist and so ending can be hard when there is still so much that could be offered. Despite this, I hope that the sessions are meaningful and helpful to our clients.

Many of our clients live in small towns across the region and this means that I am often in my car driving around the region visiting clients at home, in GP Practices or in community settings. I have become more skilled I hope at creating a safe forum to practice in whatever context I am working in. One day it was a snooker room in a community centre, the next in a nurse practitioners room at a local GP surgery.

For more information:

To learn more about the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS), go to: https://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/what_we_do/refugee_resettlement/syrian_resettlement_programme

To read more about our therapeutic services, go to: https://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/what_we_do/therapeutic_casework

Like the sound of Jude’s job? We are looking for several jobs within our therapeutic teams across the UK. Find out more here: https://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/jobs

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