Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

Taking Refugees into your Home? Here’s some advice

Looking after your mental health and theirs: advice from an expert

What has struck me in the last few days is the sheer number of people offering their homes, spare bedrooms and even mattresses on the floor to refugees fleeing Ukraine. In Prague, where I live, social media has been flooded with offers of support, databases showing where people can find accommodation, and posts from people looking for a place to stay.

But while the gesture is incredibly well-meaning, we need to be careful. Firstly, if you are taking an unknown person into your home, the same risks and dangers that will always apply, still apply. Secondly, if you are not trauma-aware, you might risk making their trauma worse — after all, these people may have seen their cities destroyed only a few days ago. And finally, if you are not resourced, boundaried and clear on how to look after your own mental health, you may soon come to regret your decision.

I interviewed Charles David Tauber, CEO and Founder of the Coalition for work with Psychotrauma and Peace, to ask for some advice. Watch the interview here.

Charles has been working with refugees and people from conflict zones for over 27 years. Based in Vukovar, Croatia, Charles offers completely free counselling in person and online, as well as offering Pragmatic Empowerment Training — a course aimed at training “barefoot psychologists”, e.g. those who have not have the chance for formal or informal psychological training but who are working with trauma in some way.

Here are some of the main things that Charles shared in our talk:

  1. Let people talk. It is important to create an open atmosphere where people can say more or less anything. Let them talk about their experiences, their feelings. Otherwise, pressure builds up inside them like a volcano — you can help to provide a vent for them. Let them cry, let them scream — that is the most important thing.
  2. Make sure you are supported and resourced — listening to a refugee’s stories will be very hard for you. Create a group to get your own feelings out — this could be an informal support group for those working with or helping refugees. You could also write about it — Charles keeps a journal around his feelings, while other people might draw, dance, or make sculptures to express their emotions.
  3. Do something you like for at least 30 minutes a day — this is advice for you and for the refugees. This could be walking, eating slowly, meditating, singing, etc. Getting exercise and fresh air is especially important for both of you.
  4. Form groups in your area — try to arrange local support groups, both for yourself and other volunteers, and for the refugees themselves. Stay in touch with local refugee support and other expertise.
  5. Set your boundaries — be clear about what you can and can’t listen to, and what you can and can’t do. This is important in the beginning, as it can be re-traumatising for the refugee to be abandoned by you later on — e.g. being kicked out because you realise you can’t handle the horror stories. Therefore, be clear with yourself from the beginning whether you are OK with this being a potentially long-term situation.
  6. Seek support — don’t try to help a refugee handle the legal papers on their own; reach out to lawyers and other support systems. Seek psychological support when you can. You can also contact the CWWPP for advice.

The CWWPP is planning to create a series of free support groups — for refugees, for those supporting refugees, and for those who are interested in training as ‘barefoot psychologists’ with Pragmatic Empowerment Training. This would mean learning and later teaching others to be trauma-informed, without needing to be fully trained psychotherapists (while this may be ideal, such training is often prohibitively expensive and time-consuming, and the aim is to help on the ground as effectively as possible).

We will meet on March 25th at 20:00 CET to discuss the creation of such groups — get in touch if you are interested in joining.

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Gwyneth Jones

Gwyneth Jones

Can we thrive in the Anthropocene? Deep Adaptation & EQ Coach in Prague. Gardener & activist. Host of The Story Anew. Cymraeg. www.gwynethjones.coach

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