Counselling and advocacy lies at the heart of our approach to working with traumatised people from refugee backgrounds and asylum seekers. QPASTT counsellors work face-to-face and in groups, with survivors of refugee related torture, who have survived traumatic experiences, using a multicultural, flexible, client-centred approach and a wide range of interventions and therapies. Our approach is based on a trauma recovery framework.
We work with clients across the spectrum of their settlement journey including people who arrive on a humanitarian visa and people seeking asylum (both in detention and in the community), those who are newly arrived and those who have been here for many years.
Our counsellors aspire to provide a safe and respectful environment in which survivors of torture and trauma can better understand, manage and heal from the physical and emotional pain of their experiences.
Our service is free, voluntary, confidential, and conducted with qualified counsellors and interpreters. We offer counselling for refugees, and asylum seekers in Brisbane, Logan and regional Queensland.
Learn More: Trauma and Counselling
The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) is an international treaty that mandates an absolute prohibition of torture worldwide. Article 1 of this convention states that:
“… ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”
Torture is an act that involves extreme humiliation and can range in severity from mild to extreme physical and psychological brutality. The intention is to cause severe pain and suffering and instil fear in the victim, their family and their community.
Torture aims to break down the humanity, dignity, identity and self-respect of the individual. Fear is an essential element of torture. When torture is used, a whole society, not just the individual who is being tortured, lives in fear. Other members of society are afraid that it will also happen to them.
In this way, torture is a tool of social control used by a system that rules individuals and societies through fear.
Some of the most common methods of physical torture include:
- sleep deprivation
- electric shocks
- sexual violence and rape.
Common methods of psychological torture include:
- mock executions
- mock amputations
- witnessing the torture of others.
For more information about torture, visit International Rehabilitation Council for Victims of Torture
We use the term ‘trauma’ to refer to the pain, distress, suffering and other physical, psychological or social consequences that our clients experience prior to, or arising from, their forced-migration journey.
It can result from an actual experience such as war or civil conflict but can also be caused by witnessing or hearing about a traumatic event or being the target of actual or threatened death or injury. Trauma is commonly characterised by the person feeling overwhelmed, helpless and fearful at the time of the trauma.
Refugees and people from refugee-like backgrounds may have been through many traumatic experiences, including torture, as a result of the actions of other human beings in the context of war and persecution that could have a long-term traumatic impact. For many there is ongoing trauma due to the fears they hold for loved ones who remain in situations of risk, such as the country of origin, refugee camps or other countries where their rights and safety are in jeopardy.
More information about trauma, go to Australia Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health.
Each individual is unique and so trauma can impact in different ways on different people and at different times. For example, some people may notice effects soon after experiencing trauma, for others it may be years later and the changes they notice in themselves may vary. Sometimes it may be hard to see the connection between the past trauma and what is felt now.
The way trauma affects people will be influenced by family history, migration experience, and personality, emotional make up, age, relationships, culture, support systems and ways of coping. Reaction to a trauma is likely to be complicated by any earlier trauma that has been experienced. It doesn’t matter if you are old or young, male or female, trauma can and often does affect people from all walks of life.
Despite these variations there are many common experiences that people who have lived through trauma report. Trauma affects individuals on biological, psychological and social levels. Some of these impacts include:
- being on alert for danger, even in relatively safe environments and feelings of panic
- physical complaints that don’t have a clear medical explanation or that may be related to psychological distress
- injuries, illnesses, chronic pain, psychosomatic issues
- anxiety, sadness, fear, anger, irritability, guilt, shame, self-blame, numbness
- intrusive thoughts, flashbacks about traumatic events, losses and/or fears for the safety of loved ones
- nightmares, trouble sleeping
- memory and concentration problems
- changed sense of self, beliefs, loss of trust, disempowerment, loss of self-esteem
- difficulties with personal relationships; social withdrawal.
Trauma not only impacts on individuals; it also impacts on families, social support networks, refugee communities, and Australian society and institutions.
Most people are referred to QPASTT when either they or someone else notices that these impacts are affecting their daily lives and their relationships with others.
Most refugee children and young people, will have experienced or witnessed events such as war; removal of physical and emotional safety; destruction of their homes; death, separation or disappearance of friends or family members; physical injury and lack of medical attention; deprivation of essential resources such as food and water; forced conscription; rape or sexual assault and arrest, detention or torture; deprivation of education and opportunity to play.
Families may be affected in many ways such as:
- loss of family members
- breakup of nuclear and extended families, and support systems
- changes in relationships and roles
- difficulties feeling trust or safe with others
- intergenerational and gender conflict
- social isolation and marginalisation
- unhealthy coping mechanisms, e.g. domestic violence, alcohol.
Low to mild levels of anxiety, grief and/or anger can be expected as normal responses to significant trauma. In relation to schooling these responses can compromise to varying degrees the conditions required for healthy progress and the capacity to learn.
However, for some children and their families the refugee and settlement experiences may be associated with the development of psychological (emotional) problems. Some signs in children affected by trauma may include:
- extreme aggression/ persistent anger
- out of control behaviour
- crying a lot
- severe social withdrawal/ apathy
- poor school attendance
- frequent illness related to stress
- sleep problems
- feelings of fear and/or panic in relatively safe situations
- developmental delays or regression to an earlier developmental stage
- low self-confidence
- Selective mutism or mutism.
The majority of refugees have experienced traumatic events before coming to Australia. Many have been brutally tortured, others have seen loved ones killed, or have escaped from a war zone. Many have experienced all three, and all have fled for their lives.
The physical and psychological effects of trauma are often devastating and difficult to overcome and, combined with the challenges of settling into life in an unfamiliar country, many people face severe and complex challenges. Refugees are survivors and most do extremely well.
Refugees, are people who have survived horrific situations and are people of many strengths, skills and resilience of spirit. By working with a counsellor, these strengths of survival are drawn on and it is possible to overcome traumatic experiences and rebuild lives that have been impacted by torture, brutality and exile.
Many people think that counselling has something to do with being mentally ill. They, therefore turn away from counselling not wanting to risk being viewed and treated as mentally unstable or sick even though they may realise they feel stressed, worried or sad and need to talk things through with someone.
Counselling can happen through many different modes such as talking, art work, using symbols to demonstrate and express oneself, exploring the meanings of dreams or writing as a means of expression and reflection. “Body work” such as relaxation techniques is also used.
Counselling at QPASTT may take a number of forms. It may be supportive which means helping to find possible solutions to current problems or strategies that help clients to cope with painful or unpleasant symptoms that they are experiencing.
Counselling may also take the form of an exploration or a journey. It may touch on emotional or spiritual pain. If past painful experiences arise they can be talked about in a supportive and safe way relieving the emotional pain over time.
At QPASTT we use a recovery framework to address the psychosocial impacts of torture and trauma on the individual, family and community. This includes using the following recovery goals, developed by the Victorian Foundation for Survivors for Torture Inc
The goals are:
- restoring safety, enhancing control and reducing fear and anxiety
- restoring attachment and connections and overcoming grief and loss
- restoring identity, meaning and purpose
- restoring dignity and value.
For more information about this recovery framework read Rebuilding Shattered Lives (VFST, 1998)
At QPASTT we are aware that the way we see the world, what we value, and the meaning of events and circumstances may be different to our clients, because we come from different cultures or have had different life experiences.
We are guided by respect for a client’s humanity and individuality and we seek to understand an individual’s unique view of themselves and their world. In this way we hope to appreciate their culture in a deeper way than by just having basic data about customs and beliefs.
QPASTT counsellor/advocates come from a range of professional backgrounds including social work, psychology, human services, family therapy and community development. They use a variety of counselling techniques and therapeutic approaches to help refugees overcome the effects of their experiences.
Some of our counsellors come from refugee backgrounds and are familiar with the cultures and experiences of our diverse client group. Our counsellors speak a range of different languages and we use professional interpreters.
All counselling begins with an initial assessment. This is a time for the referred person to meet with a counsellor, share their concerns and some information about their past and current situation. It is also a time for that person to find out more about QPASTT and our counselling service. From that point a plan can made together about ongoing counselling or other supports that may be helpful.