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At the age of 20, Helen Bamber was appointed to one of the first rehabilitation teams to enter the former German concentration camp of Bergen Belsen. Prior to her appointment, she had undergone a series of examinations that included assessment by a psychologist as to her suitability to work with seriously traumatized and sick people in the context of what was known to be an unpredictable and volatile environment. She then underwent a one-year placement with the National Association for Mental Health, an organisation treating soldiers invalided out of the army on mental health grounds, as well as receiving training in basic relief work.
She remained in Germany for two and a half years, working directly with the survivors both in terms of their daily needs in maintaining their lives within what had become refugee camps, and in responding to their traumatic experiences of torture, atrocity and the grotesque killing of their loved ones.
An extension of her work involved the identification and the later evacuation of a group of young survivors of the camps to Switzerland for treatment for tuberculosis. The project was particularly difficult in what was a bombed and devastated country with poor if any telephone or other normal forms of communications, and involved negotiations with senior officers of British Military Government, UNRRA, International Red Cross, the Swiss Government and humanitarian organizations in Switzerland.
She returned to England in 1947 and was appointed to the Committee for the Care of Children from Concentration Camps, where she was responsible for the welfare of 722 young orphan children from the former concentration camp of Auschwitz, brought to England in 1945 under a special scheme.
Over a period of eight years, Helen was trained in the skills of working with deeply-traumatised children and young adults by the director of the Committee, a practicing psycho-analyst and the former head of an institution for severely disturbed children. She worked in close liaison with the Anna Freud Clinic and the London Hospital Child Guidance Clinic, as well as undertaking a part-time study in Social Science at the London School of Economics.
In 1954, she was appointed Senior Case Worker to the Invalid Children's Aid Association, working with families where one or more members had contracted tuberculosis. In 1958, she was appointed Almoner at St. George in the East Hospital and worked there and later at the Middlesex Hospital, until the birth of her son in 1958.
Following the birth of her second child, she became one of the founder members of the National Association for the Welfare of Children in Hospital, drawing on her experience of observing children separated from their parents both in the hospital in Belsen, and the hospitals in which she worked in England. Through its research and lobbying, the organization known as NAWCH established the now-proven practice that a mother should be allowed to remain with a young child, particularly under the age of five, during periods of hospitalization.
During the period that Helen was bringing up her two small children, she collaborated with Dr. Maurice Pappworth in researching the material for and the production of his two books, A Textbook of Medicine and Human Guinea Pigs.
She also collaborated with a psycho-analyst, Dr. Hardenberg, in the research for his paper to the Institute of Psycho-Analysis on the subject of Torture. Material from the Nuremberg trials and the study of the conversion of the Nazi doctors into practitioners who could kill and perform experiments on children, provided insight into the origins and context of atrocity, and was explored in the paper on Torture.
Helen joined Amnesty International shortly after its inception in 1961 and became chairman of the first group in the British Section. In 1974, she helped to establish and was appointed Secretary of the first medical group in the British Section of Amnesty, a group that researched and exposed the practice of torture worldwide. It campaigned both in the UK and abroad on its findings of the participation of doctors in human rights abuses and called on doctors to oppose torture and to protect those members of the profession who were themselves in danger.
In recognition of the documentation and submissions of the Medical Group, the British Medical Association established a Working Party on Torture. The BMA's publication on the findings of the Working Party resulted in its first Torture Report and publication Medicine Betrayed.
Over a period of 20 years, the work of the Medical Group developed widely and its doctors were sent on missions abroad to investigate allegations of torture and human rights abuses. Documentation was submitted to the United Nations and other international human rights bodies.
The examination and treatment by the Medical Group's doctors of an increasing number of people residing in the UK who had been tortured and required specialist skills for physical and psychological injuries, led to the realisation that a more comprehensive service of long-term care was needed.
It was for this reason that, at the end of 1985, Helen established the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, as an independent charity. Since its inception, the Medical Foundation has earned a worldwide reputation for its response to the practice of torture and the treatment of its victims. She was director from 1985 until 2002 when she stepped down to continue to treat her large caseload of seriously traumatized people.
In recognition of her work, Helen was named European Woman of Achievement in 1993. In 1997, she was awarded an OBE and in 1998 received an Award for a Lifetime's Achievement in Human Rights.
Helen holds Honorary Degrees from the following universities: Oxford, Dundee, Glasgow, Essex, Ulster, Kingston, The Open University, the American University, London and Brookes University, Oxford.
Helen is a consultant to the Belfast Trauma Centre and a community based psychological centre in Londonderry. She is on the advisory boards of the Gaza Community Mental Health Project, Gaza, and the Family Rehabilitation Centre in Colombo, Sri Lanka. She is Patron of Women Against Violence, Belfast, the New Counselling Service, Belfast, the Caspari Foundation for educational therapy and therapeutic teaching, London and a counselling service in East London, known as WCHM. She is President of the United Nations Association, London and South East branch.
Helen is frequently called upon to address conferences and to hold workshops and seminars both in the UK and abroad on the subject of the Holocaust and the long-term effects of life threatening traumatic events on the victims and the next generation. She has given many interviews to journalists and to the BBC on the subject. She has also developed ways of communicating a very difficult matter to Sixth Formers using literature, poetry and drama to illustrate her subject.
Helen has been working with people seriously traumatised by life-threatening events since the Second World War. In April 2005, she established The Helen Bamber Foundation to offer a service of care to survivors of gross human rights violations who fall outside the remit of other organizations but who are suffering physical and psychological injuries that require urgent attention and, in many cases, long-term care. The majority of her clients are asylum-seekers and refugees but her caseload also includes Holocaust survivors, British former Far East Prisoners of War, former hostages, victims of the conflict in Northern Ireland and trafficked women. The Foundation aims to educate the public and influence the decision-makers on all issues regarding gross violations of human rights, torture and atrocities, and their effects on persons who suffer them.
I came into counselling, probably far too young, in my 20s. However, I was lucky that, by chance, I went to the iconic South West London Counselling Course, run in those days by Bridget Proctor and Pat Milner. As a result, I became reasonably sure that this was the right profession for me, and when I left London, in 1986, I became a full-time counsellor, and a part-time lecturer in counselling and related activities.
Since then, I have researched and written about multi-cultural counselling, and have written three information leaflets for BACP, on Making the Contract, Fit to Practice, and Charging for Therapy, and have presented at conferences both in the UK and abroad.
My real interest in ethics is for Professional Conduct, or applied ethics and I chair Professional Conduct Panels.
I continue to work in private practice, and am also a Senior Lecturer in Counselling Studies at the University of Huddersfield.