Amritha Aparnadas is a Counsellor/Advocate, working for the Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Service (STTARS) since 2013. She holds a Masters in Social Work and Bachelor of Science in Yoga therapy. Her areas of expertise include working with communities, children and families that have experienced trauma. In 2014, Amritha was involved in providing counselling to torture and trauma survivors detained in Inverbrackie. In 2016, Amritha worked for Overseas Services to Survivors of Torture and Trauma (OSSTT) on Nauru providing specialist torture and trauma counselling to children and their families.
Abstract – Clinical Master Class – 13 March 2019
This presentation, to be presented with Bernadette McGrath, will discuss the practice of trauma informed counselling and group work with children of asylum seekers and refugees detained on Nauru and the outcomes achieved using the limited resources available on-island.
Trauma work with children on Nauru was initially developed in response to the deteriorating mental health of children on Nauru. OSSTT counsellors recognised that the conventional approach to counselling and group work within the Australia context would need to be adapted to meet the needs of this particular situation. It was evident that our focus needed to shift from trauma recovery to surviving ongoing trauma. The underlying aim was to establish therapeutic relationships with the children in order to assist them to create safety and develop skills as individuals and as a group to cope with the harsh living conditions, build resilience in the face of ongoing trauma and to acknowledge their journey as survivors.
The program used art and structured play therapy to help children manage their trauma reactions and create positive memories as anchors. Careful thought went into adapting the physical environment to provide a sense of immediate safety and belonging, using various sensory and visual techniques that were culturally and family appropriate. Participants were encouraged to give expression to the internal/external struggles of their experience of living in offshore detention. Some activities were family oriented to explore and share their struggles, strengths and resilience as a family and rebuild family relationships. Culturally appropriate activities that allowed children to remember and revive positive childhood experiences from their home countries were also incorporated. Outcomes achieved included a reduction in intrusive symptoms, improvement in their sleep, reduced frequency of nightmares, increased school attendance and an increase in positive coping and motivation.