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Lessons Learned

I will never forget the day I met Noori. He was one of too many psychologists I was interviewing. Each one was what I call, “copy paste”, their CVs had the same wording, even same quotes, they had all been to the same seminar on compiling a CV. My first words to him were “Are you another copy/ paste?” He laughed, he knew the system and swore on his life that he was not. He is not. His life and honor were safe.

I deliberately had Oscar, our, at that time, very untrained rescue dog, in the interview, to see what would happen. Noori and he bonded. The other psychologists had screamed or told me a dog was unclean, forbidden and proceeded to lecture me. Noori was hired.

We have had our ups and our downs. He used the F-word on me once during a staff dinner. My response was to suspend him for one month. “Don’t finish your dinner, go now.” His father begged me to take him back. His wife, his brothers, and his entire tribe begged. My word had to be my bond, a month it was, with no invitation to staff dinners for an additional three months. He accepted his “chastising” with honor, our relationship was sealed for good and good it has been.

Recently we have recalled our communal journey through the “black night of the soul” and his part in the restoration of hope and life. I asked him what the privileges and the dangers are in being a psychologist working with victims of rape, torture and captivity. Yes, the current human catastrophe in Afghanistan was the backdrop to our discussion.


“It is an honor to be a part of the Springs of Hope Family and to be a psychologist at The Hope Centre. It is my home. I know that I have made some mistakes but I have learned from them and believe me when I say that they will never happen again. It is a privilege to work with those students and families who were in the captivity of ISIS and have now returned. It is my greatest joy when we complete sessions and they no longer need my help.

My room is their holy of holies. All of the center is their safe space but my consulting room is where they share the secrets that they share with no one. My position is both privileged and hard, because I have to be professional, and maintain dignity, and confidentiality, yet working within our society which is still closed to psychological intervention, I have to be the “Big brother”. This is more than a term, it is a position and a role which allows and enables me to enter their story, which a psychologist cannot do.

It is good that you, Miss Lisa, set up all the protocols which are for the protection of both our clients, and my protection. Particularly in our society which is boundaryless, it was wise to put those boundaries in place before we even begin. The patients know exactly what is expected of them and how the management of SOHF will respond if boundaries are not respected. You have given me the safety net that I need in order to do my job.

Lifeline, exposing life traumas

Psychological education on depression

remember my first session. Oh, it was so hard. It was with S. When she began to share, and she shared everything the first time, it just poured out of her. I found it hard to focus, I could hear her words but my mind went back to how my family faced ISIS and managed to escape and find a safe way into Kurdistan. I had to force myself to focus on her story. It was listening to a list of names of the ISIS men who had raped her. I had a knot in my stomach by the end of the session. I went for a walk in the playground, it was hard for me to breathe but I forced myself to overcome and to separate myself from her trauma. I recognized that I was experiencing secondary trauma. That is when I asked you for the key to the playground, so that I could run for thirty minutes at the end of the day and go home, leaving it all behind. I knew that I had to put a practise of self help into place immediately. If not, I would be consumed.

I believe that is why some of our psychologists did not last. They had no support system in place. I do. You have given me excellent support, you debrief with me every day, with every case and every session and my wife is strong in giving me space to talk or to just go with her for a walk and clear my head. Even with my training, it was so hard to hear the stories of rape. I felt embarrassed to be a man. Ashamed of the male sex. S told me that she would never get married, she would never date a boy, that she could never trust again. We did 37 sessions. Then she got married. I will never forget that, she turned up with a wedding invitation, and now she has a baby. These are the moments that I will never forget, that make it all worthwhile. Those are the privileges, seeing the effects of ISIS overcome. Seeing the healing. Seeing the triumph. It is unbelievable and I am so honored to have a part in the healing journey.

One of the difficulties is in getting the families to accept their raped daughters or wives. It’s not just working with the girls, but often working with the families, particularly the fathers or uncles who consider the raped girls to have brought shame on the family name. Look at the conflict we had with X’s family. Nine years old and raped. It is a miracle that she is alive and sane. Her father, who was taken captive and managed to escape, should have known, should have understood the nature of ISIS, but he refused to welcome her home. As you always say, Miss Lisa, everything we do is a learning curve. No one has yet written the book on “What to do after ISIS”. We are figuring each case out as we go along. In the case of X, I went to visit her father (with her permission of course). First time, he didn't even look at me, his position was fixed, she has shamed the family, she cannot come home. Honestly, I was shocked. I decided to go back and try again, for the sake of X who was confused, unhappy, and angry. This time I used the Socratic method, engaging her father in questions which I hoped would cause him to question the basis of his belief system. He received his daughter home. They reconciled and today live in peace. You see X she is amazing, one of our brightest, most well integrated kids.