E-Therapy Pilot Research Project

providing EMDR for Syrian Women Refugees

A client’s letter of beauty, hope and optimism

This is a letter from a client of the Syrian E-therapy Project to her therapist Rouba Droish Alkaja, EMDR therapist.

The client is in her late twenties and from northern Syria. She suffered so much:

– She was arrested and held for about two years in Syrian Government prisons after the Syrian crisis.

– She was moved between more than one prison.

– She suffered both physical and psychological torture and sexual harassment.

– After her release from prison, she found that she had lost two of her brothers in the crisis. This made her go through great grief and trauma.

– Her uncle was also killed during the same period.

– She and her family fled to Turkey five years ago to escape from the Syrian regime.

She has since suffered from symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTSD), such as avoidance, hyper-vigilance, nightmares, flash backs, sleep problems, lack of appetite, re-experience, lack of focus, in addition to anger and tension.

The client is working to secure her needs and those of her family. She was so happy to receive the online twelve EMDR sessions at the TAUK E-therapy Project because she was too frightened and embarrassed to consult psychological centres in-person and also because her work would not allow her to take the times off.

She received the E-therapy on Sunday (when she is off work), the only day that she can attend sessions, she has improved significantly after the EMDR therapy.

…changes that have happened to my life…

I hesitated a lot before writing this letter, but I feel that as my therapist, you have the right to know the details of all the changes that have happened to my life since my last EMDR session with you at the Taafi project. I felt for a long time that I will not be able to but thanks to God, I managed to do so.

I will summarize the changes that occurred in my life during and after the Taafi online EMDR treatment with the following points:

  • My whole life has changed including my relationship with my family, including my relationship with my father has all improved a lot.
  • One day after therapy, I got the courage to say to my father that the pressures in life you are under is the same as my pressures, and we all are human beings with feelings, but I do not show my worry as anger, but you are doing that with minor problems and in express them in details, you create a lot of tension in our life. You need to know that we are all human beings, and we can make mistakes. We are not angels, even prophets. For God’s sake, you must change your view of life, or you will lose us, your children.
  • Thank God, this conversation had good effects on him, and it became calmer in the way he treats us, and he started treating us as grown up for the first time as if he had a personality as it was impossible before that for us or my mother to voice such an opinion.
  • My relationship with other people has become much better and more honest. I am dealing with them on the basis that we are equal human beings. We respect each other, or if we became more able to forgive mistakes for each of us, as this is normal because us all being human beings. I started building my Relationships with others on the basis of love, honesty and respect without underestimating anyone’s value or belittling any one and this thing has resulted in reciprocal behaviour from others people around me, and I became  the kind of person who attracts people as friends by listening to their concerns and help solving their problems in a way that pleases and satisfies God and people.
  • My personality also changed to the better in the details of my life. I no longer the passive person who try to please others at my expense and learned to say no to things I do not agree with and learned to say “No” for the first time when things did not suit me. I started being able to set my priorities and my interest but without being selfishness, because I realised that giving my interest and wellbeing apriority is surely cannot be called selfishness.
  • My most important priory is my spirituality that God is satisfied with me and that my mother is satisfied with me, and that I am satisfied with me, and anything else became of less importance, whether it is material or relationships or anything else that in the past used to be given greater value than its real value.
  • The food, I eat started to have a taste and it tastes very good. I feel by the grace of God, that eating is a blessing that I did not enjoy before. I am keeping a good weight and my health has improved significantly as I am eating balanced diet.
  • For me life started having colours and its colours are very sweet. However, we cannot always get all the colour that we want, but surely, we will not let anyone paint our lives with the colours they want us to have. This life is for us, and it is our right to choose the thing that pleases us.
  • Through therapy, I managed to face all the upsetting events of the past, and I was able to surpass them all, and nothing now that reminds me of the past can affect my mood, even if these memories are my childhood, the people I lost in my life or arrest. This has enabled me to be more able to learn and remember the things that was not able to do since my arrest and torture.
  • My Concentration and focus had improved since completing my EMDR sessions and began to come back as they were before my arrest. My thinking and concentration opened new horizons for me. Week after week, I felt the difference. To the degree that I have decided to test myself I downloaded a program to listen to an e-book, and I completed that and started listening to another books. There was initially a small improvement in focus, but I started to notice a noticeable improvement after listening to both books. I then listened to fifth and sixth book. I decided that I would hear something useful and at the same time something familiar, and I actually heard the stories of the prophets, and here I started a new stage, and when I finished, I noticed something very sweet, when I read the Qur’an. I started understanding the words of the Qur’an for the first time and this made me feel even happier, and more focused on the verses of the Qur’an. My prayers have become more rewarding and more guided than all the years before, thanks to God.
  • I feel my relationship with the God has become stronger, I have become more merciful, calmer, and more spiritual than before.
  • Suppressing my anger, which was a very big problem for me before. I was not able to suppress my anger, and I thank God that this has changed, even though I began to leave things to God’s will. I am more patient to please the Lord of the worlds, but this is also an achievement and a blessing from the God.
  • I thank and pray to my EMDR therapist who caused this turning point in my life. I prayed to God for you a lot since completing the treatment. I prayed to God for you even more than my prayers for my mother.
  • The changes and improvements that happened to me as a result of EMDR therapy that improved all my abilities are a gift from the God, as God facilitates and solved all my affairs and problems through you, my therapist. You were the reason, and of course I had a strong will, and thank God, I was able, thanks to God, your help, and my will to overcome all the traumas in my life.
  • My dreams have become for the first time, more beautiful and contain hope and optimism.

The E-Therapy Project Itself

From mid-2020 we started planning an exciting research project which again has come into its own during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a pilot project, supported logistically by Mercy Without Limits based in Turkey, providing E-therapy to 50 Syrian female refugees.

The project team comprised 3 therapists who were trained by Trauma Aid UK in 2016 in Turkey and was managed by Batoul Akkad, pictured right, who is an EMDR Europe Accredited psychotherapist.

Our Middle-East Co-ordinator Dr Walid Abdul-Hamid oversaw the project and the research is being undertaken by UCL Research Fellow Dr Aseel Hamid.

The project was funded by Trauma Aid UK and started treating participants in January 2021. We hope that the pilot results will prove promising enough for us to seek further funding to continue this project.

Here are some of the comments from recipients so far:

“For the first time, I feel that I am on the right path to psychological peace. I feel that I am returning to myself and to my truth and not what others want or what the past experiences impose on me. For the first time in my life, I am free from the feelings of being the victim, from the helplessness and deep hostility towards the parties that caused my harm, I have already started to own and lead my life.”

“The best thing is that I became able to watch my story like a movie, a movie that I watch without fear!”

“It’s almost like magic, I go to sleep without fear, and the nightmares have completely disappeared.”

“I searched a lot for this kind of service, my salary was not enough to pay the costs of treatment and there are no free psychological services in my city, I felt as if you were a gift from heaven for me… The treatment I need is free and arrives to my home, being online made it easier for me to access. I cannot express my gratitude enough.”

We have benefitted enormously from the generous donations from Regional Groups who have organised on-line workshops. The Consultants’ Workshops in November 2020 and November 2021 also provided us with funding boosts. All the Trustees would like to thank the wider EMDR Community for their support which made the E-therapy project a reality.