Awareness Is the Beginning of Healing

Awareness Is the Beginning of Healing

Field Guide for Barefoot Psychologists | Kafa Eweijan & Zakaria Al-Kareem
Kafa Eweijan is from Homs, Syria, and has been a resident of the Za’atri Refugee Camp in Mafraq, Jordan, for six years. She is a Community Facilitator for Beyond Conflict’s Field Guide for Barefoot Psychologists with our partner Questscope. Zakaria Al-Kareem is from Sheikh Miskeen, Syria, and is a resident of Za’atri Camp. Zakaria is the Coordinator for the Field Guide with Questscope. He played a pivotal role in executing our recent randomized controlled trial in mid-2019.

It is hard to solve a problem without knowing its cause. In the same way, it is difficult to prevent or stop an illness without knowing how and from what it started. It is hard to detect without observing its symptoms, and hard to treat without a basic understanding of medicine.

Despite individual, social, and geographic differences, we have all experienced the loss of a loved one or something we had an emotional connection to – perhaps a homeland, childhood home, or identity. Whatever the loss, there is always some greater thing we hold on to – our self. But can we really do this? As we have worked with the Field Guide, we have struggled with this question. We will discuss it by looking at the story of a young woman who was part of our Field Guide sessions– physically, psychologically, relationally using herself as a laboratory for resilience. We were lucky to sit with her as she shared the Field Guide’s impact with us. 

A Journey Between Myself and I

Zakaria and I started our interview with A with a simple question: “What was your psychological state before you started the Field Guide?” And so she began to tell us about her own psychosocial journey, mirroring the journey she read in the Field Guide:

“I had lost myself,” she started. “I had been unable to recognize myself since the traumas and suffering began at an early age during the conflict in Syria.” She continued, uninterrupted. 

“I was at my grandfather’s house playing with my uncle – who was more precious to me than anyone else – when armed men burst in on our evening and took my uncle from us in front of everyone. They beat him before shooting him twice – once in his shoulder and once in his leg – and dragging him out of the house.’”

“One of the armed men then picked me up and threw me against the wall. Maybe it was mercy from God that I lost consciousness, so that I did not hear the third bullet they fired into his head. I did not believe that he was dead and remained in denial for two weeks until I saw a picture of him in a burial shroud.”

“Shock was followed by stress and a lot of turmoil. I was afraid of being alone. Even though I was aware, vigilant, I was lifeless. I no longer visited my grandfather’s home because the one time I did I had flashbacks—my heartbeat and breath quickened. I felt terrified. I felt the pressure in my head, as if I smashed into the wall again. This was the last time I entered my grandfather’s house.”

“I started eating less, but gained weight nonetheless. I was then bullied because of my weight gain, causing me to withdraw socially, unable to make friends.”

We stopped her briefly to ask, “so, it was like the world was controlling you, and you were feeling less in control?” A replied: “Yes, this is what happened to me. I was losing control of myself, my reactions, and my anger. I felt like Ahmad in The Field Guide story, when he told his sister Isra’ that ‘I feel like someone else is guiding me.’”

Even though I participated in many psychological support programs, I did not improve.  While I must admit that these programs did boost my morale a bit, they did not solve my problem. I had lost hope of going back to how I used to be and lost hope of going back to being me. The me I knew.”

“This was until one day two employees from the Questscope center knocked on our door and asked my mother if they could come in for a bit to explain something called The Field Guide. At first that day, I believed it would be like the rest of the other programs and would provide some meetings or support groups, like the ones I had previously tried.  However, I quickly came to understand that The Field Guide is an educational program, not a support program. The way it is done and delivered – the scientific content interwoven with a story – is what made me curious about joining and further encouraged me to participate. So, I signed up, in the hopes that it would offer me something the other programs had not.”

“There was something about the first session that drew me in. The session was composed of a story, scientific information, and self-control exercises. As we went on, I realized that each part of the Guide complemented those before it. I also deeply appreciated the importance of the story—there has to be a story to facilitate our understanding of what is going on in the brain and body in the experience of stress and trauma, of what is going on inside ourselves. There also must be the scientific lessons—because this is what actually made a real difference in my understanding of what was happening inside of me. Lastly, the work could not have been completed without the exercises that actually helped me overcome a lot of anxiety and get rid of the intrusive thoughts I was having.”

“I have just now understood that for a long time I was under the control of so many unconscious processes. I have started to heal from the shocks, the traumas, and my distress. Thanks to the simple methods I learned, I now know well that I will not be affected in the same way every time my uncle’s name is mentioned. I take deep breaths and don’t let the thoughts in my head spin out of control. My health has also got better: I sleep better, my appetite for food is better, and I can now slow down and take care of my heart.”

“I would not have gotten to where I am without the facilitator’s sessions full of information, and the group we had. My presence as one person, amongst the others in my group, really consolidated our empathy and made it easy to understand that each one of us is unique, and our individual experience is unique.”

“I recommend The Field Guide for everyone, because our society needs similar programs. There is such a culture of shame that prevents many people from visiting a psychologist or even recognizing that they have a psychological challenge. Unfortunately, we have yet to hear about any similar program, so I hope that the sessions continue to reach more people.”

She finished. “Just as the body needs medicine, so does the soul.” 

With these remarks, A finished discussing her experience with The Field Guide. And A is just one of the millions of people around the world who have experienced trauma, who have lived through war, displacement, or loss, but the difference between her and them is that she found a safe space to embrace her, listen to her, and give her the keys not just to unlock her doors but to also make a major difference and positive change for her and those around, showing that some good came of it after all. This – an educated, aware, psychologically sound, and mentally fit generation of the future – is what our program strives for.

As the front page of The Guide says, knowledge is your right and self-awareness is your greatest asset. 

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