The violence and cruelty in war conflicts often supersedes that which individuals or society can psychologically and socially deal with. Rape and serious domestic violence are experienced as traumatic experiences which lead to existential threats and mortal fear. A psychological trauma destroys the feeling of security and it attacks a human’s basic sense of trust. Personal boundaries are violated, self-esteem is undermined and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness is created. As a result, panic attacks, depression, chronic pain or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can impair the life of the victims for many years.
During wars, women often find enormous reserves of strength to keep themselves, their children and their relatives alive. Then, when the war is over, they are overwhelmed by terrifying images and feel pains that have no traceable physical cause. Many lose their will to live. It is important to know that these effects on women’s health are possible consequences of violence against them. It is important to know about these possible health impacts of violence against women. And it is just as important not to pathologise them, which would reduce them once again to a victim status. To start with, a trauma is a “normal” bodily and mental reaction to an occurrence which is beyond “normal” human experiences. With good social integration, a safe environment and, if necessary, medical treatment, many people manage to deal with traumatic experiences without becoming seriously ill.
Difficult living conditions and lack of support
Unfortunately, the living conditions in areas of war and conflict and in post-war societies are usually characterised by existential need and by continued danger for women. Furthermore, many survivors try to hide the fact that they have been raped, because they are afraid of being stigmatised or in the worst case, of being rejected or killed by their family. Also, they meet people in clinics, refugee camps or from aid organisations who are usually totally unprepared to deal with their problems. For these reasons, the women are often isolated and on their own with their situation and do not receive the necessary and often life-saving support. In the worst case, insensitive and wrong treatment can lead to a retraumatization and to new injuries.
Trauma-sensitive counselling and support
The women’s counselling centres run by medica mondiale offer a wide range of support for traumatised women, from open conversation groups and specialist trauma therapy sessions to material support and assistance in finding accommodation or employment. Some women also find temporary refuge in medica mondiale shelters. The organisation’s workers respond to the personal support needs of each individual woman who seeks help from medica mondiale projects.
medica mondiale’s psycho-social trauma work
The extent and consequences of violence against women differ from country to country, so the most useful forms of psycho-social counselling and support also differ. In its local projects, medica mondiale only works with local psycho-social counsellors. They are most familiar with the women’s worries and hardships and the taboos prevailing in their society.
Psychosocial work in counselling groups
One very successful approach is the psychosocial group work, which is particularly successful because the participants can discuss their problems within the group and support each other.
Individual psychosocial counselling and therapeutic work
In addition to the groups, individual counselling sessions are also offered. For many women, this is the only setting in which they can speak about their painful experiences. For women who are acutely threatened by violence, the initial focus is on crisis intervention and psychological first aid, which is then followed during the counselling with the recreation of security and with stabilisation.