“Allowing people to see what might be possible”: Volunteering in detention – Part 1


“Allowing people to see what might be possible”: Volunteering in detention – Part 1

Cashel, one of our detention volunteers shares his experiences visiting those in detention

28 November 2018

“Allowing people to see what might be possible”: Volunteering in detention – Part 1

Recently, I started reflecting on my counselling work, and was particularly struck by the difference between my private clients and those I see for counselling in the Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook as part of my volunteering with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS UK). I can say I find the work to be quite similar but the surroundings are totally different.

For me, the purposes of counselling are a means to help individuals see a way forward in their lives, possibly to discuss issues that are troubling them and to consider if there are any aspects they would want to change. We take all of this reflection and look at how they could go about making those changes in ways that might bring more contentment for themselves.

My private clients source me on the internet and other such places whereas in the IRCs, people are referred to me by detention staff, other JRS colleagues and also through my interacting and mingling with them in the welfare room, where they usually seek me out so as to have someone to talk to.

Those I meet in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook want out and to be free so I see my role as helping them to manage their detention existence, to cope with the uncertainty regarding their release or deportation. Research has shown that nearly all people suffer some psychological difficulties if they are held in unwanted confinement, no matter where. The difference for my private clients is that they are free to come and go from my counselling room as they please.

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However, both groups, within the counselling hour, are given a time that they may not find elsewhere to talk about those things that are uppermost in their minds. Being able to talk, disclose, cry, are hugely relevant in releasing tension and allowing people to see what might be possible. To both, I’ll talk about their support systems, their family and who they feel they can really talk to and receive some empathy.

Particularly with those in detention, I will check their wellbeing: are they eating, drinking water, getting exercise and any quality sleep, as these are important to maintain their spirits. In detention, sleep is difficult given the circumstances but is important for their mental wellbeing. I find their minds tend to be full of bad memories and often horrific events such as torture, killings, rapes. I’ll ask them to try and picture some happy events. As I have found few to immediately recall happy times, I’ll offer suggestions – good times with families, partners, sport etc… Then I ask them to try when going to sleep to keep visualizing and thinking of these happy memories because research again shows that quite often we dream about those things we have been thinking of before we fall asleep. I suggest when possible not to be looking at violent action films on TV before sleep for that same reason. Generally, I believe, it takes most of us 5 positive thoughts before we can dampen down 2 negative thoughts, a ratio of 5:2.

A major difference in the IRCs is that I can’t have any certainty that I will see the same person the following week, either because they are not able for different reasons to come and see me or they have been moved to another centre, released or returned to their home country. Whereas my private clients make appointments with me and rarely do not attend.

Overall, I enjoy working with both sets of client, one helps to pay my mortgage and the other helps me to do something positive for my fellow man.


This blog was first published on The Detention Forum as part of #Unlocked18

The second part of this blog will be published tomorrow

Photo credit: Image by @Carcazan.

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Jesuit Refugee Service UK
The Hurtado Jesuit Centre
2 Chandler Street, London E1W 2QT

020 7488 7310

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