Survivors of Torture, International (SURVIVORS) was founded in 1997 to fill a gap in services for survivors in San Diego County. Their program takes a holistic approach to healing with psychotherapy, psychiatry, psychological evaluations and medial affidavits for asylum seekers, medical case management, and interpreters. Additionally, SURVIVORS offers case management. Tammy Pham is a MSW graduate from San Diego State University and is the Clinical Case Manager here. Her work emphasizes the word “clinical” to include not only case management, but also therapeutic support and advocacy for the client. When asked “What was the most pertinent information from her MSW education?” She cited one of the first tenets of client interaction – meeting the client where they are. Tammy stressed the need to be present when working with the client and truly listen to their wants, needs, goals, and hopes for the future.
Moreover, one of the goals of SURVIVORS is to create a community for their clients, who can often feel isolated from the inflicted trauma of torture or from the resettlement process in the United States. Tammy warns not to underestimate the power of the group, “it is one of the strongest healing tools for torture treatment.” To achieve this, the clinical team holds Healing Clubs and Creative Expression Art Therapy Groups. Healing Clubs take place monthly and are organized for both male and female participants. Each month the group focuses on different activities such as meditation, cooking, or nature walks. The weekly Creative Expression Art Therapy Groups are held for women to come together and engage in expressive art therapy to explore feelings and heal through communal art work. MSW interns are able to take an active role in facilitating the group. They are able to practice building rapport with the clients while balancing group dynamics.
Jasmine Dyjak , who is in her final year of the MSW program at SDSU and is also a part of the mental health training program, has been attending the creative expression art groups. Jasmine explains, “I am learning through connecting with such precious beings filled with shining light. As one young woman put it during group, ‘to lead a comfortable life, accept the differences, keep oneself open, and celebrate [are my hopes]! Unity begins inside- we belong to each other.’” After observing the group, Jasmine will be co-leading the women weekly though different expressive art therapy exercises. The learning experience can be utilized in future practice with additional populations who have gone through trauma. The addition of Kevin DeKock, a direct practice MSW intern, has allowed the development of a much needed men’s group that will be co-led by one of our partnered psychologists. These groups provide a place for survivors to express feelings of shame, humiliation, and isolation in a safe place with others who might have experienced similar thoughts.
Beyond groups, SURVIVORS holistic approach also includes a multidisciplinary team. This diversity is seen within the range of internships at the agency. Currently, there are direct practice and administration MSWs, a BSW, nursing school interns, a 3rd year medical resident from UCSD, and the first seminary intern starts this fall. I am the administration MSW intern. The ability to concentrate on social work administration in my internship has allowed me to explore the management of human service organizations needed to ensure the continuance of quality care for clients and supplement my course work. One area of increasing interest for me is the conceptual framework for agency board governance, committees, and the evaluation tools required by funders. I am looking forward to the board of directors’ retreat in January where the focus will be on strategic planning.
The number of internships at Survivors of Torture, International has grown over the years as staff members have come to value hosting the unique learning experience. SURVIVORS and the interns cherish the connection to the academic community. It also strengthens SURVIVORS commitment to their mission to educate professionals and the public about torture and its consequences.