Vancouver Island Counselling Centre for Immigrants and Refugees Addresses Trauma Amongst Immigrants and Refugees

Adrienne Carter’s personal history motivated her to provide counselling services to those seeking to overcome trauma and thrive in their new communities.

“People who have come have such a need to talk,” said Adrienne Carter, “but they are not asked the questions.”

Carter is the Director of Services for the Vancouver Island Counselling Centre for Immigrants and Refugees (VICCIR), an organization that provides mental health services to those who have come to the area from all over the world. VICCIR is also one of the organizations that is receiving funding through United Way’s Blue Love Campaign for Mental Health.

Arrived After Traumatic Family Experience

The need to share is one that Carter understands personally, having arrived in Canada with her family under difficult circumstances at the age of 13.

“My family and I escaped from Hungary, and we were in refugee camps in Austria for about 4 or 5 months,” recalls Carter.

Her story is similar to that of many refugees in that her family had nothing in the way of possessions and neither her nor her parents spoke English.

“My father was imprisoned and tortured,” explains Carter, “and that was one of the reasons why we came.”

It goes without saying that such an experience would be traumatic and Carter doesn’t believe that her father had an opportunity to achieve resolution. “He took that to his grave,” she says, adding “a lot of people do that.”

The Physical and Mental Toll of Trauma

Such experiences often manifest themselves both mentally and physically and can lead to lengthy and debilitating personal struggles. Post-traumatic stress disorder is not uncommon.

“Many of the people have psychotic breakdowns,” said Carter. “They are hospitalized for long periods of time.”

The issue can take its toll on all areas of life, often interfering with an individual’s ability to parent or keep a job. Carter believes that mental health services, like the ones offered by VICCIR are critical to recovery.

“Time isn’t enough,” she said.

Thriving Through Recovery

VICCIR believes that counselling can help to reduce the debilitating symptoms of trauma, making their services a critical part of recovery. People often come to Canada seeking to improve their quality of life, and addressing trauma in a healing environment is an important step in achieving this. One of the organization’s stated goals is to help clients ‘find within themselves an eagerness to participate in the communities that welcome each of them.’

Watch her story here:

Tailoring Individual Approaches

Key to the organization’s success is a recognition that cultures and individuals are unique and that treatment plans must be tailored accordingly. Interpreters not only bridge linguistic gaps but cultural ones as well, creating trust and maximizing the chances of a positive outcome. Services provided vary in nature, ranging from individual, family, and community initiatives.

The Importance of Giving

Finances can present a barrier, which is why VICCIR charges clients on a sliding scale, including free services when need be. As such, the generous support of donors is a crucial piece of the puzzle.

VICCIR team members and donors believe that strong individuals lead to strong communities, and aim to facilitate this through the important services provided by the organization. For Carter the mandate is personal.

“Because it wasn’t available for me, I wanted to make it available for others,” she said.

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