Dutch Reverends develop a trauma healing course for migrant women.

An interview with Reverend Esther van Schie.

Reverend Esther van Schie has been running the Organisation of Faith Integration in the Netherlands since 2017. She and her colleagues developed a group course on trauma healing among migrants called Freedom Focus.

Trauma has many insidious faces. Sometimes it manifests in the chasm of addiction, other times in the horror of domestic violence, but most times, it stems from deeper untreated wounds.

No one is a stranger to hardship in life. However, for those who had to flee their home and leave behind their loved ones for an uncertain future, not knowing when and if they could ever return, mental well-being is, without surprise, put under significant stress. Many refugees show remarkable resilience even if violence, exploitation and abuse are often inevitable companions in their journey to safety.

Still, once migrants reach their destination, they are often faced with language and cultural barriers, thick walls of bureaucracy and an invasive sense of insecurity. Re-building a life is no easy feat; unsurprisingly, it takes a toll on one’s mental health and many experiences post-migration syndrome. Resources for mental health counselling should be easy access to all, but especially to those most in need.

However, many refugees come from cultures with a stigma attached to asking for help and a profound mistrust of resources linked to the government. Languages and cultural differences are also common deterrents to seeking aid from Dutch mental health services.

“The Dutch are known for their directness; people have to ‘just’ speak their minds. Here is also a difference in world views. For example, the migrant is not able to pray with their psychologists, nor they are taken seriously when talking about spirituals connotation of mental health,” explains Esther.

On the other hand, the International and multicultural church ICU in Gouda has created a warm environment of trust and open communication within its community. The reverends of ICU were able to identify the gap in the need for mental health support and the difficulty in accessing it, and they were able to develop practical solutions.

Freedom Focus offer group courses where refugees women can feel safe and understood and are given the space to share their stories. The participants are divided by gender to be able to tackle more specific problems. The groups discuss basic principles from psychology and the Bible while forging the path towards understanding trauma and healing. Even though the courses target Christian women, migrants from all religious backgrounds are welcome.

During sessions, refugees are provided with practical tools to understand trauma and its manifestations. What renders this service so effective and successful is that the reverends that coach the sessions take into account cultural differences and provide materials in seven different languages. Moreover, while psychology and spirituality are seen as two separate realms in most western societies, the Freedom Focus groups successfully incorporate religious elements that provide much-needed comfort and hope.

Esther notes, “It is important to see the sessions as a support tool, but they are not meant to replace a psychologist. People do have to seek out help when they are too overwhelmed. But sharing it in the course can be a first step in opening up and seek for help”. She continues by stating, “We would like to distribute to other migrant churches as well. Most migrant churches are focussed on praying, but the course could enable them to work on mental health as well”.

 For more information about the Freedom Focus course, click here.