Incidental counselling workshop by Foundation House

Dr Jess Schaink

I recently had the great fortune of attending an amazing two day course on Incidental Counselling, specifically on working with young people from a refugee background.  As a volunteer for The Water Well Project, you would know that facilitating sessions can be challenging. The material taught during this course was invaluable for both my role as a volunteer and health care professional. Incidental counselling is something that can easily be used during Water Well sessions so I would like to share with you a few ‘gems’. Firstly, it is important to understand that incidental counselling only needs to be a brief encounter, just a sentence or two, in which you plant a seed of goodness for somebody.

The course was presented by Foundation House (Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture) and explored their framework around the effects of persecution, war and torture on refugees, as well as practical goals for recovery. The framework details the experiences people have in an environment of violence and persecution, the resulting social and psychological effects, the core components of the subsequent trauma reaction and the recovery goals. The ‘recovery goals’ include listening to and acknowledging their traumatic experiences; treating them with respect and dignity; and helping them restore attachments and connections.

The most important thing I took away and wanted to share was that we are all doing incidental counselling when we treat people respectfully, when we re-frame negative statements, when we acknowledge what somebody has shared.  I thought this course would teach me a whole new way of doing things but instead it reaffirmed that treating people well, supporting positive behaviours and being generous with your time is very much core to incidental counselling and can make a significant difference in the lives of refugees.

I’d like to finish with a quote from Judith Herman that was shared during this course:

“Helplessness and isolation are the core experiences of psychological trauma. Empowerment and reconnection are the core experiences of recovery.”

For further information, there are a wealth of useful publications on the Foundation House Website, including one specifically for health care providers caring for people from refugee backgrounds.