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Monthly Archive March 29, 2016

Laurier workshop to address refugee trauma experiences

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News Release

The Centre for Teaching Innovation and Excellence at Wilfrid Laurier University is offering a new continuing education workshop, Refugee Trauma 101, from April 8 – 10 at the Waterloo campus.

Refugee Trauma 101 is a two-day workshop designed for volunteers and mental health professionals working with refugees. Course content will introduce participants to trauma experienced by refugees and discuss strategies to enhance resilience and self-healing. The course also covers the self-care of helpers, and includes lectures, discussions and experiential learning.

“Many refugees experience both traumatization and uprooting, which can be extremely painful and stressful experiences that are difficult to cope with,” said Heidi Ahonen, a professor in Laurier’s Master of Music Therapy program and workshop facilitator. “Many suffer long-lasting psychological issues and can live in fear even when the immediate threat is no longer present.”

Ahonen is the director of The Manfred and Penny Conrad Centre Institute for Music Therapy Research and a graduate of the Harvard programme of Global Trauma Recovery: Refugee Trauma. She is also a psychotherapist with specialization in refugee trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Workshop co-facilitators include Brice Balmer, assistant professor in the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary’s Spiritual Care and Psychotherapy program, and Iman Arab, medical doctor and community mental health professional.

Additional topics include: intercultural communication skills, cultural meaning-making of trauma, introduction to the refugee trauma experience, understanding the neurology and implications of PTSD, trauma screening, spirituality and trauma, vicarious traumatization and compassion fatigue.

Registration is $150 for the two-day conference (includes lunches). To register, contact continuingstudies@wlu.ca by March 28. For more information, visit http://wlu.ca/continuingstudies/


Syrian refugees on their way to EU, Serbia-Croatia border

Syrian refugees on their way to EU, Serbia-Croatia border

Heidi Ahonen, Professor
Faculty of Music
519-884-0710 ext. 2431 or hahonen@wlu.ca

Kevin Crowley, Director
Communications & Public Affairs, Wilfrid Laurier University
519-884-0710 ext. 3070 or kcrowley@wlu.ca

Three Day Refugee Trauma 101 Continuing Education Course

This 18-hour, continuing education course for volunteers and mental health professionals working with refugees​ introduces the refugee trauma experience to enhance resilience and self-healing. The course also covers the self-care of helpers, and includes lectures, discussions and experiential workshops.

When: April 8-10, 2016.
Where: Laurier’s Waterloo campus.
Cost: $150 plus HST (includes lunches)


Heidi Ahonen, PhD, RP, MTA, FAMI, professor of Music Therapy at Wilfrid Laurier University, graduate of the Harvard programme of Global Trauma Recovery: Refugee Trauma. Ahonen is a psychotherapist specialized in refugee trauma and PTSD. She conducts vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue workshops all over the world.

Brice Balmer holds a DMin in spirituality and addiction from University of St Michael’s College, an MA in regional planning and resource development from the University of Waterloo, and an MDiv from Methodist Theological School in Ohio.

Iman Arab graduated from Aleppo University in Syria with a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery degree, then a MPH from Damascus University. As a doctor, Arab worked in varies Middle Eastern countries, including Syria, Kuwait and Jordan, with both national and international organizations. Her professional career in Canada has been health-related, especially in the field of mental health promotion and education, diversity and intercultural communication skills. Over the past 10 years she has been a board member of the Reception House for government-assisted refugees, and of the Muslim Social Services. She is a member of the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council and Community Coalition on Refugee and Immigrant Concerns, and the vice-chair for the Immigration Partnership – Belonging Group.

Topics Covered

Topics to be covered include:

  • Intercultural communication skills;
  • “Cultural meaning making” of trauma;
  • Introduction to refugee trauma;
  • Understanding neurology and implications of PTSD;
  • Refugee trauma experience;
  • Trauma screening;
  • Stories that heal: introduction to refugee trauma and healing stories, and how to use storytelling to enhance resilience and self-healing;
  • Spirituality and trauma;
  • Participants’ own life stories;
  • Self-care of helpers: vicarious traumatization and compassion fatigue.


Download the Refugee Trauma 101 registration form and follow the instructions on the form.

Lost your colors? Lost connection?

The aid volunteer working in Haiti… Day after day, witnessing trauma, loss, and extreme suffering. Doing his best to help and rescue as many as he reach. One day he notices he has become numb. His ability to sleep and enjoy life has waned. He feels hopelessly inadequate and pushes those around him away. Seeking refuge, he just wishes to be alone. Prior passions have become distant memories. He has begun to lose hope… He may be a victim of vicarious trauma.

A therapist working with victims of sexual abuse… Day after day reliving the recollections of traumatized experiences. Doing her best to help them rebuild torn lives. One day, she notices she has become fearful of the future. Overly protective of her own children, she has difficulties around trust issues… She may be a victim of vicarious trauma.

The missionary worker helping HIV children and their mothers in a war torn country. Day after day, observing the sickness, death and emotional turmoil of innocent people. An awareness that she now feels irritability and vulnerability to over stimulation, self-blame, and a dampened meaning to her life and mission. She feels helpless and sorrow. There is too much suffering and she only has two hands and 24 hours in a day. She has come to experience a lack of boundaries when rescuing the trauma victims. She has also started to doubt her personal faith… she may be a victim of vicarious trauma.

A human rights investigator, tasked with discovering and revealing past wrongs. Investigating genocide, mass graves, rapes, and indescribable cruelty, one day he notices his restless sleep has been eroded by nightmares, unsettling images, flashbacks from stories he heard from eye-witnesses and families whose loved ones are missing. He has started to avoid social relationships and intimacy. He feels self-doubt, inability to make decisions, and he has become cynical. He has started to set rigid boundaries in relationships… He may be a victim of vicarious trauma.

Helping the Helper…. Getting back the colors

People we help change us. To appreciate them and ourselves, we must take care of ourselves too.

It is possible to gain empowerment over vicarious traumatization. The first step is to learn to appreciate and recognize our own emotions, needs, and boundaries. We also need to learn to gain a healthy balance between our work and rest. We all need the feeling of belonging, a true connection with others and to something greater (i.e. spirituality). We must gain back our sense of interdependence, meaning of life, and hope.