On the 6th April 2013 Nasrin Parvaz and Karen Rowe gave a wonderful rich presentation on both the experience of the exile and the requirements of a therapist working with refugees. You can find Nasrin’s full talk here: Nasrin Parvaz Working with Refugees .
On this page you will find some of the themes that were highlighted and a space for you to discuss by “leaving a comment”.
Exile & the loss of attachments and culture: Loss of family, relationships, culture, mourning rituals, language and thus identity result in isolation and a loss of ones voice; a type of prison. Unsurprisingly such loss of attachments are likely to lead to depression and despair. Family and culture reflect back to us who we are and how we interact with the world, when that is gone how does one understand who they are? How does one grieve and understand loss so far away from their mourning rituals? How does one make themselves heard in an unfamiliar language?
Trauma: the loss of attachments and the shock of finding oneself in a foreign land could be considered trauma in their own right. The reality is that many refugees experience torture and/or harrowing and dangerous journeys from their countries of birth. Trauma meets with what is already happening in the mind. It takes over and infiltrates the every experience of that individual removing a sense of safety.
Ontological Security: trauma compounded by the loss of a voice and identity associated with exile can facilitate a “disruption and disturbance in ontological security” (Karen Rowe). That is, the loss of feeling like a somebody, a lack of confidence in one’s own existence. This break in fundamental security makes the need to hold abusers responsible of the highest importance, perhaps a necessity for recovery. How does one function in the world when ones sense of being recognised is shattered by a failure in fairness and justice?
Mind & Body: there is a slow paradigm shift in the Western psyche towards an acceptance that the mind and body are inextricably linked and mutually influencing. This is perhaps best demonstrated in the fields of Health Psychology and as in this case working with survivors of torture. Psychological torture, such as isolation and physical torture result in complex mind and body responses that should not be considered pathological but as an expected response to trauma. Distress and despair can be held in the body when it can not be held in the mind and the real violence can be taken up in the mind and acted out. Our role as therapists may only be to hear and think about what can not be held; to bear witness.
The therapist can …
- Bear witness to trauma and exile and do so without pathologising the individual’s human response to their experience. A non expert stance of symapthetic understanding.
- Gain knowledge about the client’s culture to understand what is meaningful to the client and how that might be expressed.
- Honour the past and presence in the present. The therapist can not be the rescuer and we must consider whether as therapists we try to undo the harm that has been done. Might our focus be better on making the best of the position in the moment?
Nasrin discussed the combination of things that helped and continue to help her; therapy, study & research, music and writing. She talked beautifully about writing…
Writing is a process of producing and being produced. It offers more than being distracted. It provides an outlet for a voice as much as it creates and provides a voice.
“Writing is the stream that carries pain through a vale of suffering and pours it out into the sea.” Nasrin Parvaz.