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Dealing with war trauma through psychosocial support

Six-year-old Zaid* from Syria, exhibited the classic symptoms of a traumatised child. Most of these, like the unwillingness to communicate, started when he moved with his family from Syria to Turkey, and then to Greece.

"Treating trauma requires a careful approach so as not to do further harm. Both his mother and I waited until he responded to social interactions before attempting to create a bond," psychologist Nansy Magkana explains. At first, Zaid refused to play with toys and made limited eye contact. "

Our collaboration started when we had our first eye contact and non-verbal communication, mainly smiles. He continued playing in a chaotic way, where all engaged members would suffer and die; this was his way to unconsciously understand his past experiences," Nansy explains.

When emotions started emerging, Nansy let him speak, at his own pace, about his past traumatic experiences, while observing his emotions. The second step was to help him accept his negative feelings. Through playing, he expressed his thoughts and feelings in a more coherent way. "Meanwhile, we had developed a strong bond and created a safe environment. Soon, he started expressing himself, anxiety and fear diminished and nightmares disappeared". Zaid laughs again and dreams about the future. He wants to become an engineer and build a wooden house near a farm with many animals, as his home in Syria was destroyed by bombs.

"The psychosocial support in Epirus consists of individual and group sessions to ensure mental health awareness, prevention of mental disorders, and to enhance resilience among the population with the appropriate coping strategies," explains George Toskidis, a mental health psychosocial support supervisor. The support also provides treatment to mild or moderate cases and referrals of severe cases for specialised treatment.


About 100 children and parents have benefitted from psychosocial support services in Epirus. © Tdh/Vasilis Vavvas

Omar* is a 15 year-old Syrian boy suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). "His parents asked for our help. They were worried as he was constantly angry, his sleep was disrupted, and he was experiencing fears related to a traumatic event," Andromachi Mitropoulou, another psychologist specialist, explains.

Omar had suffered from panic attacks, anxiety, and sleeping problems for years, but things worsened when the bombing started in Syria and a family member died.

"When we started our sessions he was afraid of getting out of his room, slept long hours to avoid social interaction and had nightmares. He was sad because he felt that other young people made it difficult for him to establish relationships with them," says Andromachi.

After psycho-education on social relationships, Andromachi started working on building his self-esteem, teaching him not to accept hostility and how to be more assertive. It took a few sessions to resolve Omar's anger issues. He soon realised he could forgive and make new friends.

Omar made new friends and then received assisted teaching to integrate into a Greek school for children with special needs. His sleeping hours are again normal and he now spends more time in outdoor activities. "Building therapeutic alliance, a safe space to feel comfortable and discuss his issues helped him feel a member of a group but also reduced his PTSD symptoms," Andromachi concludes.

Since September 2017, approximately 100 children and parents have benefitted from the mental health psychosocial support services Tdh provides in Epirus with the European Commission support. These services mainly target vulnerable refugee populations.

*Names have been changed to protect identities

Improving the psychosocial well-being of refugees through group sessions. © Tdh/Vasilis Vavvas

Greece has received a massive influx of asylum seekers fleeing war, many of whom are minors. These children experienced events which have had a detrimental impact on their mental health. In the region of Epirus, north-west Greece, Zaid and Omar have found happiness and hope again with the help of the psychosocial support sessions provided by Terre des hommes (Tdh), with financial support from the European Commission.


By Vasilis Vavvas (pictured), Liaison Officer, and Kostas Kanellos, Liaison, Visibility and Communication Manager, Terres des hommes @tdh_greece

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