Volunteers Learn To Give Initial Psychological Aid to Displaced Persons

28 Aug 2014


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On August 28, 2014 in Kyiv, UKRAINE, UNDP supported a workshop for local volunteers to learn to provide initial psychological aid for internally displaced persons and people residing in conflict areas. More than 35 volunteers came from civil society organizations, such as East SOS”, “Donbass SOS”, “Employment Center of Free People”, “Crimea SOS”, “Untied Help Center,” and “Save Ukraine.” Journalists also attended.

Many people refuse to get psychological help, and some just need to talk”, said one volunteer who is experienced working with displaced people. With the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, according to the UN Agency for Refugees, more than 416,000 people from the eastern regions have left their homes and relocated to safer parts of the country.

Recent events in Ukraine demonstrated the strength of civil society, the rapid development of a strong volunteer movement,” said Olena Ivanova, Project Manager of the UNDP Project “Support to the Social Sector Reform in Ukraine”. “This is why, as a part of the UNDP efforts to help Ukraine in crisis, we decided to train volunteers, who work directly with displaced people, to provide initial psychological aid. Actually, any person familiar with the rules of such assistance, not necessarily a qualified psychologist, is able to give initial psychological aid. We have also prepared Guidelines on psychological aid (in Ukrainian) that will be helpful to everyone interested in the topic.”

"The psychological condition of the people, who are now in the area of ​​the anti-terrorist operations (ATO), or who have left it, is alarming,” said volunteer in attendance from Lugansk region. “Their anxiety levels significantly increased, and many of them tend to show a greater degree of aggression. We think that psychologists are needed in each transit point, because, in fact, every person there needs help. After all, a timely psychological aid increases person’s chances to recover faster in the future”.

Currently there are 27 psychiatric dispensaries and 672 psychologists’ consulting rooms, as well as 545 psychologists, operating across Ukraine, and over 30 psychological coordinators available in every region of the country. Their contacts can be found on page 14 of the booklet “Roadmap for the People Displaced within the Country” (in Ukrainian), which has been prepared and published with the UNDP support. Also in this booklet, you can find tips on how to overcome psychological stress and how parents can help their pre-school kids, school children and teenagers to deal with a stressful situation.

Key operational principles of first psychological aid are as follows: look, listen and guide,” said workshop coach Irina Pinchuk, PhD in Medicine, Director of the Ukrainian Research Institute for Social and Forensic Psychiatry Health in Ukraine. “When helping the displaced in a transit point or in a temporary residency, volunteers should foremost pay attention to those who are silent, do not ask anything, who are standing or sitting on the sidelines. Those are the people who need priority assistance. Sit next to them and also be silent. Then let them speak first.”.

It is also important to understand that when a volunteer has a psychological interaction with a person, this person should not be left alone afterwards,” said Pinchuk. “Volunteers are expected to take care to pass this person to a more qualified specialist. They also should make it clear to the person about the next stage of psychological support and from whom specifically it can be sought.”.

The coach also provided illustrative examples of how to help children to survive a stress, regardless of age, such as infants who recoil from loud noises, children with enuresis following strong fear, and young adults who have a sense of guilt and become withdrawn. These tips can be found in the presentation “Providing Psychological First Aid”. In general school psychologists should work with the children from displaced families and with their parents.

During the event, under the guidance of the coach-therapist Daria Sapon, volunteers diagnosed their own psychological conditions and practiced own assistance skills and self-help.

A person should have a plan for tomorrow, day after tomorrow, for the whole week,” advised Sapon. “If your patient does not have such a plan, you, as a volunteer, should make up this plan for the person. And do it this with a sense of empathy, avoiding being overwhelmed with his problems. And do not be afraid to take such a responsibility.”

Iva Repnitska, head of the Family Center “Family&Education”, and a volunteer of Donbass SOS, found the workshop helpful. "With this knowledge now, I can give primary psychological assistance to any person in need,.” Repnitska said. “Also, I found it very useful to learn about self-defence techniques to avoid or recover from psychological stress, received during the volunteering work. We tend to take to heart so many stories and other people’s experiences, and sometimes it can be overwhelming and we need to know how to effectively deal with it. So, my advice is to trust psychologists’ advice – they really know how to help us!”,


United Nations Development Programme «Support to the Social Sector Reform in Ukraine»

The project supports the Government of Ukraine and the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine in accelerating the implementation of reforms in the social sector and achieving Ukraine’s short- and mid-term social and economic development goals.

Since the beginning of the project implementation in 2011, proposals have been drafted for pension reform in Ukraine, administrative reform in the social sphere, and the optimization of institutions that provide social services. Moreover, over 26 regulations on social services have been developed.

With project support, over 1,200 representatives of departments of social protection and service providers from all regions of Ukraine were trained on the new issues of social service planning, management, and delivery (such as assessment of community needs in social services, social commissioning, quality control, standards, public awareness, calculation of costs of social service, etc.).

Advisory support was given to the local authorities of all regions of Ukraine for implementing social commissioning; local authorities and social institutions in Poltava oblast piloted a model for public awareness on social services.