Tag Archives: Group Work with Refugees



This is a four week group, two hours per session, designed to help refugees, from 16 to 25, to grow in awareness, esteem and assertiveness; To support them to deal with feelings of loss and to enable them to honour those people, places and customs that they have left behind. To identify the building blocks that support all of us to take our space in the world. This group was made up entirely of young men and was conducted using translators.



BEGINNING WITH NAMES:   Each person created a name label and talked about what their name meant to them and where they had come from.

THEIR JOURNEY:  Everyone was invited to talk about their journey to the UK. Participants were mostly from Eritrea and a few from Afghanistan.  Some of these young men walked hundreds of miles through desert, without provisions. Others travelled by trucks, train, sea, and car. Most of them had spent time in refugee camps. Each person was given a notebook to write about their journey, primarily for themselves, to honour the strength and power of their journey.

THE BRIDGE OF WISDOM:  This is illustrated by the Bridge of Wisdom, one of the handout posts, a Round Arch Bridge, exhibited in the children’s section of the Science Museum in London, made up of individual building blocks.  These blocks are scattered on the ground, but once put together on a wooden framework along with the final keystone, the framework is taken away leaving a bridge so strong that children and adults can run over it.

The object of this course is to identify the building blocks that enable them to build a bridge into their new life. We considered qualities that strengthen us inside and outside:  self-esteem; assertiveness; dealing with feelings positively, honouring who we are and honouring what we have left behind.

SUPPORT FROM THE INSIDE – SELF ESTEEM:  They can use the experiences of their journey here to recognise their power and strength and improve their confidence and self-esteem. They had all achieved something amazing in their lives already.

We can increase this confidence by visualising ourselves doing something well. Many sports professionals use detailed visualisations of themselves doing something well to build self-belief and improve performance – like scoring a penalty goal!  All of these young lads were keen on football so it was a useful example to use. We linked this to visualising job interviews; joining a new class; making new friends…

ENDED SESSION WITH A PICTURE OF PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE: Everyone drew a picture of where they felt they had been; where they felt they were now and where they wanted to be in the future which created a lively discussion.



MORE ON SELF ESTEEM: We began by talking about the power and strength of actively becoming our own best friend, noticing how we can improve the way we talk to ourselves. How we can ‘raise our game’ if we begin to believe ‘we can do it’.  Each person named two of their strengths and identified two of their skills.

WHERE DO I WANT TO BE?  Each person was asked: ‘What do I want to be doing in 2 years’ and ‘What do I see myself doing in 7 years’. Each person had a clear and positive idea of what they wanted to be doing.

SUPPORT FROM THE OUTSIDE – ASSERTIVENESS:  How we approach other people is an important building block.  Having a position of  ‘I’m okay’ and ‘You’re okay’ is a place of positive assertiveness.  The group walked around the room, role playing being aggressive in posture and body language; being passive in posture and body language and then something between the two, being assertive in posture and body language. The group then role played how they would sit in their chairs in each of these positions. Everyone could see which one of these would work best if they were being interviewed for a job!

MISTAKES ARE VALUABLE:  We learn from the mistakes we make, like a toddler learning to walk, falling down and learning competence. I gave out the hand-out by Maya Angelou.

POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS:  The group were asked to choose some positive affirmations sheets that were passed around. Each person took at least one of them home.

ENDED SESSION WITH A FIVE MINUTE MEDITATION ON THEIR FAVOURITE AFFIRMATION.  Meditation was new to most of the group. I explained meditation with a real lemonade bottle which I shook up and then watched it settle down again and asked them to relax.  Even so, two people had difficulty with silence. One member of the group was fearful of silence in case they experienced flash backs and another person got the giggles, maybe an initial resistance. So, 5 minutes was enough to begin with. 


SESSION 3: HANDLING FEELINGS POSITIVELY: I talked about different intelligences: mental, physical, musical, creative, people skills and emotional intelligence. I placed a list on the board of the main feelings and we discussed ways of dealing with them.  Before we began, I asked them to tell me a bit about the politics in their countries and how they and others had been treated and this led very easily on to the first feeling of anger.

ANGER – NEEDS EXPRESSION WITHOUT HARMING YOURSELF OR OTHER PEOPLE; Letters/Assertiveness/Letting off Steam by telling someone/Exercise/Other Physical activity/drawing or painting your anger. I told them the story of one elderly lady I had heard of (not a client) who had bought up old cups and saucers in a charity shop and had then placed them on a shelf in her shed and when she was really angry, she would throw a cricket ball at them until they were in tiny bits!  They liked this!

SADNESS – NEEDS COMFORT;  Talk to a friend/cup of tea or coffee/favourite food/ask for a hug from someone/watch a favourite movie/listen to relaxing music. Skype or phone home.

FEAR/ANXIETY – NEEDS MORE INFORMATION AND PROTECTION;   Consider how you can keep yourself safe/get more information /who and what will support you/create space or distract yourself from the source of fear/breathing exercises or meditation. Feel the fear, acknowledge your vulnerability and do it anyway.

SHAME AND GUILT – NEEDS TO BE TIME LIMITED;  Talk to someone and decide to carry it for a short and determined period of time only and then let it go – for good. We all walked around the room carrying our chairs on our back and likened this to guilt and shame, too heavy to play football, too heavy to mend a car, too heavy to care for a partner and have fun with friends…needs to be released and PUT DOWN.

ENVY AND JEALOUSY –  SOMETIMES USEFUL, BUT CAN BE DESTRUCTIVE;  Some envy may be useful and can tell us what we want and need in our lives. Jealousy may tell us the strength of our feelings but can be destructive – do something good for ourselves instead.

JOY; It is fun to share with others as well as feeling it ourselves. Play and laugh a lot!

FORGIVENESS;  When you are ready, forgiveness can lead you to compassion. This was a great power in Nelson Mandela when he came out of prison. It is what made him such a fantastic leader.

LOSS AND BEREAVEMENT; The last week is devoted to this and honouring what and who has been left behind. One person talked about a custom that they missed from home. Most people spoke of the love for family members and friends that they missed.

We discussed each feeling as a group and everyone identified one feeling that was most difficult for them to experience and deal with.


The Fire of Fall

SESSION 4: LOSS AND BEREAVEMENT:   It is important to give time and respect to the process of grief; the acceptance of the pain of it, within ourselves and within others.  There are some things that we can do to make this process easier:

  • Talk to friends, family and others;
  • Create a special place to honour what you have lost: person, place, job, country… Place a photograph or something there to remind you of what or who you miss.  Designate a specific time to maybe light a candle and honour or reflect on whatever and whoever you need to honour and your feelings of connection to it or them.
  • If there is something left unsaid with someone who has died, we can write a letter to them to express the unspoken. In the writing of it, you are expressing something important for you.
  • You could write down your feelings of loss about what or who you have lost. Expressing your feelings is a way of honouring the place or person, whatever it may be. It is valuable to express feelings in poetry, pictures, music, in any way that is useful for you.
  • You can celebrate the gifts you have received from a person who has been very special in your life. Wrap an empty box, large or small, in gift paper and keep this in a special place for as long as you need to as an act of respect and gratitude.
  • You could walk in a local labyrinth, celebrating, valuing and meditating on what or who you have lost. I have known people imagine walking the labyrinth with their loved ones and it has been very soothing.  You could get support to do this, you don’t have to do it on your own. Look at the blog page on Walking in a Labyrinth. There is a list on the Veriditas Website showing where your nearest labyrinth might be.  We are lucky in Canterbury to have three excellent labyrinths.  One, behind Eliot College at the University of Kent,the Canterbury Labyrinth; the second in the beautiful garden of the Pilgrims Hospice in the London Road and the third in the Canterbury Christchurch University Campus Garden.
The Canterbury Labyrinth
Photo by Jim Higham
  • Allow yourself to remember.
  • Counselling can help.

Each person in the group identified a person they missed, everyone mentioned their mother and some mentioned their father and other family members.  One of their mothers had died.  Many people took one of the small gift wrapped boxes and a tealight candle.  Everyone had a chance to talk about a person they were grieving for. The pain of grief connects all human beings together since it is something that most of us experience. We are all in this ocean of life together experiencing such a variety of feelings. We joined hands in the group for a few moments to honour the people or places that we most cherished and wanted to honour.

This was the last session of the group and I gave a feedback form to each person to be filled in later with one of the administrators.  They were asked if they would recommend this group to others; what they found valuable or not and what they wanted more of in future. The feedback was positive.  One person wrote that they had discovered, ‘power, strength, compassion, grammar, homely, and I’m own best friend myself‘ .

I concluded that the main support was the coming together, the discussion and the awareness of their many strengths that was really important, especially that they can be supported from inside themselves as well as from outside.

I’ve put details of this here hoping other counsellors may run similar groups. Counselling was not something any of these lads had experienced. They were very bright capable young men who had made this extraordinary journey with such courage and power. They so much want to learn, be a valuable part of the world and most of all want to be ‘free’. Because of the difficulties in their varying skills in English, it was useful to use visualisations, images and practical examples especially using examples from football.  Made me realise how international football is for young people!