Getting to the giving stage

June 28, 1996

A unique programme piloted by the Red Cross is enabling refugees to train to counsel other asylum seekers. Alan Thomson reports. The British Red Cross is pioneering a unique higher education project enabling refugees to counsel fellow asylum seekers suffering trauma.

Seven refugees have benefited from the Access to Counselling Training (ACT) pilot project this year and there are hopes of expanding the scale and geographical scope of the London-based ACT scheme.

Many of the estimated 250,000 refugees in the United Kingdom at present have been traumatised by their experiences and ACT is designed to give community-based counsellors a proper training in counselling skills.

The students have been studying psychology and counselling at five universities and colleges across London: City University, Roehampton Institute, Regents College, Metanoia College and the Kensington Consultative Centre.

Institutions supported the initiative by giving places free and the Red Cross has contributed by providing additional funds to cover travel and other expenses. The students also receive counselling to help them come to terms with their own painful experiences.

Red Cross projects officer Sarah Muscroft said: "There is a massive need out there for counsellors but refugees find many of the doors to education and training closed. This project is about opening these doors."

Only those with full refugee status, or with exceptional or indefinite leave to remain in the country, who have shown a clear and continuing commitment to their communities by offering counselling are eligible for the ACT scheme.

Moves to ensure proper accredition for all those practising psychology and counselling make it vital that refugee counsellors, who are often best placed to empathise with fellow asylum seekers, also have suitable academic qualifications.

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