Using SE™ with refugees

In May 2016, I went to Idomeni– a refugee camp in northern Greece, to provide emotional support and training to professionals and volunteers who worked with refugees in the camp. The camp was located a short distance from the closed border to Macedonia – the gateway to freedom to the West. The dream of the refugees in camp was to cross the border and get to Western Europe, particularly Germany, Austria and Switzerland. At this time there were approximately 12,000 people residing in the camp.refugees

During the course of my work in the camp, I had the opportunity to work with the local school, with both school staff and students. The teaching staff included volunteers from all over Europe as well as volunteers among the refugees who taught the children Arabic. One day the school principal asked me to see one of the Syrian teachers who had experienced a traumatic event. She told me that I would have to convince him to come to therapy because he is young and very proud, but in need of emotional support. The principal knew the work I had done with the staff and the children and she even managed to have a “taste” what SE is. SE treatment is suitable for problems, which required an immediate solution, a brief intervention under uncertain conditions. Especially when the client can disappear on the same day, trying to cross the border into the Western countries.

I met the teacher, M. in the schoolyard. A young man in his twenties. He smiled sheepishly and said he had no need for treatment. The conversation was conducted through an interpreter, due to the fact that M. said he was not fluent in English.

I looked at him studying his body language. M. – a small, muscular man. His face were smiling but his hands were holding a cigarette restlessly. His body language expressed tension and nervousness. Moving from one foot to another, when he wasn’t smoking, he was stroking his beard, his eyes were searching around. The smile remained fixed. I asked him what happened, and he replied that two days ago, the city in Syria where his family lives, was bombed, and even though everyone survived, some of them, including his mother, were injured and cannot receive medical treatment. Apparently the city has been under siege for some time, and all the hospitals and clinics have been confiscated by ISIS.

What can you do for me?” he said in defiance. “Can you provide medical care for my mother?” I looked at him, unable to answer. He didn’t even know that I was Israeli. “I wish I could help your mother and other family members” I replied, trying to collect all the mercy I had in me for this young man. “However, I can help you exactly where you are right now”. M’s eyes met mine, he was curious: “O.K, I’ll give you a chance, and I’ll see what you can do” he replied cynically.

We arranged that he would come to my tent in the afternoon along with the interpreter, also a refugee from Syria.

M came in the afternoon, I hosted him in the tent I worked in. The tent stood among many refugee tents, with no privacy, the blankets that were spread out on the floor, were wet from the rain that fell a few days earlier, and smelled slightly of mold. Inside the tent it was hot and pretty stuffy. These were the conditions for providing a safe place. I offered him water, and asked him to sit comfortably. It’s a little bit hard to sit on a wet blanket, but who cared? The three of us: M, the interpreter, and we set on the blankets in a cross-legged position and M started to tell me what was going with him. The moment I observed his activation, I stopped him, and asked him to tell what was happening in his body. At the beginning he hesitated, looking for help from the interpreter. The experienced interpreter, gave him a sign to follow my instructions. After the third time, it was easier for him to connect to the SE language and to his body, his face expressed embarrassment, and the smile was still there.  

When he succeeded to get into his body, we started working on resources. When I asked him if there’s something that that makes him feel good or if he likes to do something, or if he can find something good in himself, he shook his head in an absolute “no”. Nothing makes him feel good, he doesn’t like to do anything, and he hates himself. I observed his body language. He was restless, twisting his hands (he could not smoke inside the tent). It was not possible to ask him to count colors or objects inside the tent. I asked him to put one hand on his heart and the other on his belly. He did so. Within a minute or two his body relaxed – as if by magic. Along with the relaxing in his body, tears came into his eyes. The tears were accompanied by expression of emotion: longing for his family, love for his mother, longing for the country where he was born, and anger about the government and the war that forced him to leave, turning him in a moment, from a pampered student to a penniless refugee, living in uncertainty. We started to work on resources: His love for his mother, his family and the good parts he recognizes in himself. M saw his mother inside a big white heart, which keeps her away from evil, he grounded the picture in his body, and the body responded by discharging. Then we grounded two more resources in the body. When he felt stronger we managed to work on his worry for his family – what he can do and how. The time his body relaxed, his smile became authentic, and disappeared when he expressed other emotions like sadness, worry or anger. The meeting was over, M was convinced that SE can help him. He told the interpreter in Arabic that I am a magician, the interpreter replied: “I told you”. M smiled, this time, from the depth of his heart.

The next day, when he arrived at the meeting, his smile was huge, when I asked him how he slept, he said: “I saw my mother in a white heart, and she watched over me up all night”. We had a couple of meetings, until one day he disappeared without any notice – he went crossed the border to continue the long journey to an unknown future. I don’t know what happened to him, but at least he went out into the unknown equipped with some tools to help him cope with difficult situations that he will probably encounter.

Dr. Batia Sheffy, SEP
batia@healingtrauma.org.il