By Ann Knapp, STARS Program Director

It’s said that time heals all wounds, but that isn’t the reality for many who’ve experienced unspeakable trauma. Men, women, and children who’ve been impacted by the horrors of ISIS; individuals who have endured violence on the basis of their gender; whole communities that have suffered decades of conflict – the resilience of people is unmistakable, but for many, going without services to help process these traumatic experiences means living with debilitating symptoms that impact their ability to sleep, eat, work, go to school, and have healthy relationships.

At SEED, we believe that everyone deserves access to quality mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) services to help them build on their innate resilience. The needs within the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) are great, and, unfortunately, the numbers of qualified MHPSS providers are limited. In order to address this gap and help Kurdistan heal, we must invest in robust training programs that equip service providers to provide high quality, comprehensive services to both displaced and host communities seeking assistance.

In response to this gap in training for service providers, the Center for MHPSS at Koya University (KU), a collaborative project between SEED and KU through the generous support of the U.S. State Department, an intensive training program was launched in April 2017 for MHPSS providers throughout KRI: the Psychosocial Support Services (PSS) Training Program. The Program exists to increase the level of skills for those working directly with clients in the current crisis, to include psychologists, social workers, and other helping professionals, integrating new knowledge and skills and intensive, long-term supervision.

The training comprises four weeks of classroom instruction delivered over a six-month period, in a sequence of one week of instruction followed by four to six weeks back at the participants’ place of employment to utilize new skills in the field. During the time back at their place of employment, participants receive supervision from a qualified MHPSS supervisor, and supervision takes various forms: site visits, group supervision, and remote individual supervision.  Each time the group returns, the first day back at the Center is dedicated to a group discussion about recent cases and how participants applied knowledge and skills from the training. In the next four days of each session, new training components are presented.  All training is accomplished through interactive and experiential learning approaches, integrating lectures with discussion, role-playing, case studies, case presentations, videos, and group and independent projects.

From April-October 2017, the Center for MHPSS hosted 24 service providers in two separate cohorts (one conducted in Kurdish and one in Arabic) for the PSS Training Program. These dedicated students worked hard, learning about the basics of psychosocial support services including topics like values and ethics, self-care, gender-based violence, child protection, and case management.  They engaged in interactive lectures and participated in role plays, applying the concepts they learned to typical situations they encounter in the field, such as ethical dilemmas or protection concerns. They reflected on ways they can care well for themselves as they seek to provide excellent care to others.

A critical aspect of any MHPSS service provider’s development is receiving strong supervision to help apply theory and ensure ethical practice. Students of the PSS Training Program reported that the most beneficial part of the program was the supervision component, offering a chance for students to discuss with a seasoned professional difficult cases and apply what they learned in instruction, to their work with real people in the field.

On November 19, 2017, all 24 students were awarded a Certificate in Psychosocial Support Services from Koya University after meeting graduation requirements. We’re excited to see how these 24 service providers will go on to help individuals and communities across Kurdistan recover from their experiences – a step towards healing the nation.