Amna, meaning safe in Arabic, supports psychosocial healing among displaced communities. The name represents the core of our work - helping refugees fleeing war and conflict to feel safe again. Amna’s story began in 2016 on the border of Greece and North Macedonia where thousands of refugees had become stranded. We began providing therapeutic group sessions for men, women and children who experienced violence, displacement and torture out of a single tent. This support was urgently needed and we grew to meet the needs of refugees, learning throughout about what healing means to them in these new and distressing contexts.
Now, more than six years later alongside our direct delivery services, we partner with local community organisations training non-therapeutic specialists in non-clinical community-based interventions that help make people who have experienced violence and forced displacement start to feel safer again.
Feeling safe again is a luxury that not every displaced person will truly experience, having to leave behind loved ones, homes and communities, with no idea if they will ever return, is a distressing experience. Even when in a relatively safer context, the loss, dislocation and years or decades of hypervigilance live on in the body, long beyond the traumatic events. Healing is further challenged as, throughout their displacement and journeys to safety, refugees are repeatedly traumatised and re-traumatised by individuals and institutions through discrimination, prejudice and racism.
Amna sessions are carefully designed to facilitate emotional release, expression and validation of experiences. They invite a gentle returning to, soothing or awakening of the body. Healing in this context is very somatic and centred on supporting people to start feeling safer in their bodies. We use healing play activities with children, youth and adults and psychosocial activities involving movement, music, storytelling, arts and sensorial activities. Through these practices, participants are helped to return to their window of tolerance (Siegel) and build a 'regulation toolkit' they can carry with them on their onward journeys. Wherever possible we promote refugee leadership and in all services, community members are invited to shape and lead parts of sessions. Finally, we harness rituals and practices that already exist in refugee communities. They are the experts in their own healing, not us.
Our values of respect, understanding, curiosity and connection are of the utmost importance in ensuring that each group member feels equally valued and welcomed and we train each facilitator in how to centre these values. One refugee facilitator, who Amna trained, said: "Amna's attention and support provided the training and the opportunity to learn and work again, and gave me hope. Now an asylum seeker with a hopeful outlook believes in her abilities again and tries to rebuild a good life for herself and others around her. There is always a heart full of love, humanity and empathy which makes the world beautiful for life."
To find out more about refugees' experiences of displacement and what has helped them to keep going, visit SADA, a refugee storytelling platform Amna launched on World Refugee Day to deepen understanding and empathy about refugee experiences.
Amna hosts online therapeutic groups, contact them if you know of a refugee who would benefit from psychosocial support.
Amna provides a wellbeing space for therapists or frontline workers working with refugees.
For a short introduction to our work, these trainings take place once a month for free. Later this year we plan to run specialist trainings for therapists working with refugees. If you are interested in attending please contact Amna’s Clinical Lead.
Views expressed in this article are the views of the writer and not necessarily the views of BACP. Publication does not imply endorsement of the writer’s views. Reasonable care has been taken to avoid errors but no liability will be accepted for any errors that may occur.