Interview Dr. Jone Schanche Olsen MD on the experience of psychosocial-support for trafficked, migrant returnees and other vulnerable persons in the process of reintegration

Most of the trafficked persons suffer physical, emotional and sexual abuse including rape and drug related problems. Signs and symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder are always noticed in these people. Caritas Cambodia considers psychosocial support for the groups is important. As part of its effort, the anti-trafficking and migration unit and the Center for Child and Adolescent Mental Health program of Caritas Cambodia works closely to provide a psychosocial-support, care and counseling for trafficked persons/returnees, and vulnerable women in order to give them hope for a new life. To understand more about this in detail Caritas Cambodia has organized a workshop on psychosocial care for migrants and trafficked persons on Friday the 24th November, 2017 facilitated by Dr. Jone Schanche Olsen from Norway. Dr. Olsen was in Cambodia from 18th to 25th November 2017 and had been to the Friendly Vocational Training Center at Sneung, Battambang province prior to the workshop. Caritas Cambodia communication officer, Ms. Somealea Ngay interviewed Dr. Jone Schanche Olsen about his experience in helping persons in difficult circumstances, such as forced migration and trafficking. Excerpts as below:

Somealea Ngay: Can you tell us something about yourself and work?
Dr. Jone Schanche Olsen: I am a psychiatrist. I have been working in the filed of transcultural psychiatry for the past 28 years in many countries including Norway, Cambodia, Zimbabwe, and Denmark. In Cambodia, from 1999-2000, I served as a full time Program Coordinator & Senior Psychiatrist in Mental Health Development Program (CMHDP) of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Phnom Penh. The program built the capacity of mental health professionals.
I am currently the head of Transcultural Center of Stavanger University Hospital, a small out-patient clinic in Norway. The area of my clinical work is on education, research and to develop new methods on the field, supervision and clinical work. Our target groups are the traumatized refugees and asylum seekers from Africa, Middle East and elsewhere.

Somealea Ngay: What are the challenges faced by the trafficked/ migrant returnees how and why psychosocial-support is crucial for them in the process of reintegration?
Dr. Jone Schanche Olsen: I think “Stima” remains one of the main challenge faced by the trafficked persons/migrant returnees, especially in the reintegration process. Experiences show that when they returned home, they feel being looked down and not well-respected socially, particularly when their trafficking story is known by their community. Another challenge is social aspect, connected to the behavior and attitudes of people around. There is no doubt that their history affects their reputation. The victims are often subjected to mix feelings of anxiety, depression, night mare, and trauma which are harmful to their psychological development. We need to address this issue, realizing that we cannot make it disappeared, but to make people understand what has been happening to them and to cope with it. To them, there is a general need to know somebody is there to support them, feel they are not alone but living in a safe place. Sometimes, they feel disconnected from their family and community. In terms of assistance needs, it is crucial to bring them into group therapy which is to make them more socially connected, to build trust, to normalize symptoms and bring them to meditation.

Somealea Ngay: What are the major steps/phases of intervention in offering psychosocial-support to augment recovery and reintegration process?
Dr. Jone Schanche Olsen: There may be more than one ways. But these are the basic steps of intervention. The first is “safety”, -simply means the trafficked persons/returnees should have a safe place to stay and not to be threatened and furthermore to access to food. This is vital for them after their long period without safety and security in life. Moreover, for those who have children, it is important that their children are cared for. Secondly, it is “group intervention and mutual support”. The third one is to identify who are in need of more specific treatment of any kind.

Somealea Ngay: Can you share any best practices of psychosocial-support to the trafficked persons in the process of recovery and reintegration?
Dr. Jone Schanche Olsen: I am interested all kinds of group intervention which is ideal and best kind of intervention because in a group, people do not need to identify as individual with mental health case but to share each other of their difficulty and history. People feel being in safe environment to talk and share the story. Beyond that, the group intervention brings them to discuss on problem solving and share of life-supporting strategies when they are returned to their community.

Somealea Ngay: What are the required skill and expertise needed for a psychologist to support the trafficked persons in the recovery and reintegration process?
Dr. Jone Schanche Olsen: I think ‘group therapy training’ is needed for the professionals to enable them to respond effectively to the psychosocial needs of the vulnerable groups. Group therapy is beneficial because it creates a supportive environment, assist each other both inside and outside group setting and furthermore, it helps improve their psychosocial functions and lastly it is less time-consuming. To equip psychologists with specialized training on group therapy is important and a needed skill for them to lead effective group therapy session with the trafficked persons/returnees and vulnerable groups.

Somealea Ngay: You have worked in the past in Cambodia; based on your past experience and the current situation of trafficked-survivors can you share your valuable thoughts on mental health support that needs to be developed.
Dr. Jone Schanche Olsen: I see a lot of efforts being made by the government and non-governmental organizations to promote mental health through a varied activities and programs. I think undertaking preventive step and promotion in mental health fit well in the context of Cambodia because it increases the awareness and level of understanding of the people; and the ways to cope with the problems.