Asylum seekers and refugees often have complex needs because of their experiences, including the after-effects of horrific acts of torture, rape and violence, alongside the loss of family members, home and culture. Very often, they lack recognition in society and are concerned about loved ones left at home or missing.
Once in Britain, refugees can suffer from high levels of anxiety about the complex asylum process in the UK. They worry about accommodation, money, education, access to legal advice, detention, fear of deportation or destitution and homelessness.
Local psychotherapist, Judy Ryde is a doer. She started the Bath Centre for Psychotherapy and Counselling asylum project in 2002 with a group of fellow psychotherapists, and a year later they set up the charity Trauma Foundation South West. She wanted to redress how generally ‘white’ psychotherapy is and developed a therapy service to deal with refugees’ traumatic experiences of exile and exclusion.
Judy started the organisation with ten fellow psychotherapists and they sought help from the Freedom from Torture to set it up. All therapists are fully qualified and have extra training and supervision for the specialist work. The psychotherapists and counsellors involved offer their listening skills and support over months – even years – to help their clients rebuild lives with meaning, as well as coping with specific PTSD symptoms, including physical pain, flashbacks, nightmares and sleeplessness.
Working with people who have been severely traumatised can itself be traumatising, so support and supervision is offered to keep staff healthy and mentally able to continue the work over a period of years. Trauma Foundation South West also provide this type of support and supervision for staff and volunteers from other agencies and charities who work with asylum seekers and refugees in Bristol.
Often, the therapists find that they need to give their clients practical assistance in dealing with the confusing processes of officialdom. This extra work includes signposting to other agencies and sometimes extends to helping with official letters from officials and writing expert reports to doctors, lawyers, tribunals, housing officers, job centres and so on.
Going beyond the call of duty is normal for these specialist therapists – but with some of the most vulnerable citizens under their care, the work they do is absolutely vital.
Trauma Foundation South West receives no government support. A fundraising event to keep their service running will be held on October 13. For more information, to buy tickets or to donate, visit their website.