In war-ravaged countries, and in those with high levels of poverty, mental health is massively under-resourced, leaving many vulnerable people suffering from the effects of trauma unable to cope and to turn a new page. Although not so media-worthy, the scale of the problem can be overwhelming, but this social enterprise has been using a 'buy one give one' approach to deal with this head-on.
The loss of a loved one, disease, poverty, the loss of a job, war, violence, all impact our mental well-being, with repercussions on our physical health as well as our ability to function within society. Mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression or eating disorders, affect one in four people per year in the UK, according to a recent report. The report also finds that three quarters of those are not receiving any help. Indeed effective psychotherapy is out of reach for most people, even in the richest countries. In war-ravaged countries, or those experiencing high levels of poverty, mental health services are inevitably going to be much more lacking, just where the needs are greater.
Healing Souls, is a social enterprise seeking to fill precisely this gap. With the help of a global network of psychotherapists, doctors, scientists, social workers, community activists and other professionals, it reaches out to some of the poorest communities in Colombia, Germany, India, Mexico and Nepal to assist those who are experiencing trauma, and their carers. In Germany it has been assisting refugees from conflict countries, who have had to endure traumatic experiences at home, and in their journey to safety.
In order to carry out its work in poorer areas, Healing Solutions uses a Buy One Give One model. It undertakes training and coaching sessions with organisations and companies and uses the proceeds of these to finance professional therapy for people in developing regions. The work of Healing Souls is hinged around Intensive PsychoTrauma Therapy (IPTT), offering IPTT training to local therapists, and providing Trauma Assistance training to non-therapists, such as nurses, social workers and teachers.
Between 2005 and 2014 Healing Souls offered 32 training courses in five countries, reaching some 260 trainees, who are (conservatively) estimated to have reached some 19,050 vulnerable people. Winners of the 2014 Social Impact Start Award, Healing Souls' work is also made possible by the generous time as well as financial donations by a network of volunteers and supporters, and by collaborations with people and organisations who work with vulnerable people and populations in distress.
Keeping the Dialogue Going
Co-Founder Matthias Behrends told me that the organisation is currently busy with bringing some new projects to life, including the launch of project HOPE “a community-based micro-credit scheme for psycho(trauma)-therapy that gives access to such services to people who could otherwise not afford it” and a new crowdfunding campaign for a training program in Mexico.
I asked him what the biggest challenge was in doing the work they do, in an email he replied: “Expressing what is possible with evidence-based psychotrauma-therapy through words or media in a way that it can be felt and understood by everyone.” I imagine there are a number of reasons why this is the case.
Our prevalent culture of happiness, success and health tends to quietly dismiss what often lies beneath – depression, anxiety and stress. These are not cool things to talk about. Also, at a time when, if you cannot take a photo of 'it', then it is not worth talking about, how can ordinary people and the media engage in the topic of psychological trauma, something that leaves no visible marks? And yet, the effects of trauma can play out on people's lives for many years after the event that triggered it, with very tangible societal and public health implications, as this report indicates.
We might not be able to eliminate or control the realities of war, violence, persecution, physical or mental abuse, loss of a loved one, a disability, losing a job. Yet, the tools to deal with the trauma they trigger, to help manage the emotions that follow, and to reduce the negative impacts on individuals, families and society, are out there. Healing Souls is making these tools available to trauma victims in poor communities, or those devastated by conflict, giving them a lifeline and enabling them to move on and start again.