Counselling from Salford academic helps the ‘nightmares stop’ for Ukrainian children

Categories: School of Health and Society

Psychotherapist Dr Mark Widdowson from the University of Salford has been praised by colleagues in Ukraine after delivering workshops on dealing with trauma to around 150 people affected by the Russian invasion.

Mark, who is a senior lecturer in counselling and psychotherapy at the university, explained: “All 147 participants who have taken part in the workshops said they had been using the techniques they had learned with clients, friends and family. 

“One woman is now in Germany with her family, but despite being safe her kids were too afraid to go to bed because of the nightmares they were having. She thanked me because, as she said: ‘now my kids can sleep’. The nightmares they were having have finally stopped. 

“Other participants have had to support people who’ve seen missiles destroy their homes, have family members being held captive, or have had to give parents the unbearable news that their son or daughter has been killed in the fighting. They have all managed to use the techniques we’ve taught them to help people to start dealing with the terrible trauma they’re going through.

“I feel like I’ve done something amazing through being a part of this project. These workshops will directly help thousands of people. It is humbling, but very comforting.”

In a letter sent to Mark from the Ukrainian Society of Transactional Analysis (USTA), Society President Roksana Yashchuk said: “We would like to express our gratitude for your constant strong support of Ukrainian colleagues in difficult times of war. We sincerely appreciate your humanity, high professionalism and significant contribution to helping Ukraine.”

Mark and Philip McNally, who is one of the counsellors in the student counselling service at the University of Salford, have been visiting Ukraine and delivering workshops on psychotherapy for a number of years. When the war broke out, Mark describes watching the news in horror. “I was seeing all these places I’d been to just being turned into rubble. I was in regular contact with Ukrainian friends, and it was really hard seeing what they were going through and feeling so helpless. 

“As the war continued, the extent of the trauma being suffered by the Ukrainian people became clear. I realised that as a specialist trauma therapist, with good links in Ukraine already, I could offer something potentially of value to help people. I offered to deliver free training in trauma-focused therapy and the response was really quick. We arranged dates for four webinars and 147 practicing Ukrainian therapists have now completed the course. 

“The course focuses on the neurobiology and effects of trauma on the brain and body, client assessment and treatment planning, and on equipping participants with techniques to help trauma survivors reduce their flashbacks, deal with distressing images and emotions and to gradually learn to feel safe again.”

Mark and Philip plan to return to Kyiv once it is safe to do so, so they can teach more advanced techniques in trauma processing – a part of the training that they believe needs to be delivered in person. Mark explains: “It is important to recognise that the participants on the course are traumatised themselves. We need to be there to deliver the next part of the training face-to-face, to ensure that they have the support they need to manage their own emotions too.” 

They are also planning to visit Poland at the beginning of September to deliver trauma therapy training to Polish therapists, who have been very active in supporting Ukrainian refugees.

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