Winter Interns 2017: Denver students reflections on time spent interning at CSVR

Studying International Disaster Psychology at a university in the States, we had the opportunity to complete an internship abroad with the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR). Other students in our university program traveled to various areas of the world and part of our preparatory work included researching and learning of our internship country. We focused on learning of Apartheid and post-Apartheid, along with some current political context. Looking back, it would have been valuable to research other African countries and the conflict within, particularly the home countries of CSVR clients. We arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa on June 10th and started our first day at CSVR the following Monday where we learned what our role would be in the organization for the next two months.

Interns are provided with a variety of different opportunities.  As interns one of our main priorities was to help with screenings for the clinic and to determine if the clients met criteria to be served by the clinic or if another organization or resource would be a better fit.  Screenings consisted of about a thirty minute interview asking about certain demographic questions as well as past trauma and torture and current stressors that the individual is facing in South Africa currently.

Another aspect of helping clients was for us to help with client progress reports.  These consisted of looking at clients certain scores when it came to a variety of mental health needs and then assessing which still needed to be worked on for the client.  The aspects that were assessed were PTSD, depression, self-perception of functioning, external stressors, impact of pain on functioning, anxiety, dealing with angry situations and psychological difficulties, connection to others, and locus of control.  These would be used to help clinicians focus on what clients still need to work on and show how they have improved.  These reports are done for clients about every three months.

While we were mostly at the office in Johannesburg, we also had the opportunity to visit two other offices of CSVR – one in Pretoria and one in Cape Town.  While at the Johannesburg office and the Cape Town office we worked on a variety of literature reviews and annotated bibliographies for upcoming papers that different clinicians and researchers at CSVR are working and collaborating on.  One literature review was about The Exilic Consciousness and its Impact on Belonging and Identity in Refugee and Asylum Seekers within South Africa, which will be presented at the 10th annual International Society for Health and Human Rights Conference in Serbia this year.  And the main theme of the annotated bibliographies in Cape Town were about transitional justice and gender and how women can be better incorporated into the conversation of transitional justice.

During our internship, we also helped with the capacity building of CSVR, specifically working on training manuals for clinicians and then a shortened version for trainees.  The different topics we created manuals for were self-care, which focused a lot on the book Trauma Stewardship by Laura Van Dernoot Lipsky; torture; and trauma.  We drew from the resources CSVR has as well as from resources from our university and outside sources in general.  For the shortened versions for the clients, we made sure the main points were covered and explained in a way that is easily understood.

Trainings were an area where we were able to gain a different perspective and see how those impacted the work at CSVR.  We were a part of a week long Feedback Informed Training (FIT), which is discussed in another blog post (link: This was something we were not familiar with in the past and gave us a different perspective about how gaining feedback from a client can be extremely beneficial and can help strengthen the therapeutic alliance.  We also attended a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) training with an emphasis on why gender is important in M&E.  We were a part of a domestic violence training that was for community members to help with their outreach and education to the community about this issue.  This was different than other trainings that would take place in the states about domestic violence and was more of a focus on introducing what domestic violence is in order for people to be aware of it and prompt them towards change in the communities based on gaining more knowledge surrounding the issue.

Another area we focused on was entering data for Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) methods. After providing trainings to community members regarding psychosocial issues, CSVR asks the community members for feedback via survey. The results from these surveys aid CSVR in adjusting their trainings to be more beneficial, effective, and satisfying for the community members. After submitting the data, graphs are formed to represent the information and the graphs and data are then distributed to appropriate team members. Receiving feedback and distributing information is important for both funders and CSVR employees alike. Seeing these different pieces work together was beneficial in understanding how CSVR works as a whole.

We participated in a focus group about African Psychology and our understanding of what it is and if it was something that was discussed while studying at university.  Part of the focus group time was also dedicated to thoughts around decolonization of psychotherapy practices within the African context. It was interesting to learn what the different perspectives were regarding these topics and, coming from a different culture, these perspectives broadened our view of African psychology. Decolonization of psychotherapy practices is something that we did not fully understand prior to the focus group and being a part of the discussion was enlightening. Further, it was valuable hearing the drastically different approaches between African clinicians and recognizing that each member had value to add.

Towards the end of our time at CSVR, we were invited to attend a supervision meeting off site to discuss one of the clinician’s case as a team with a supervisor outside of CSVR. This was a beneficial experience as it provided insight as to how the clinic team works together to encourage and support one another, as well as offer ideas and suggestions. It was a very collaborative and respectful environment and very interesting in hearing other perspectives regarding the case. These supervision meetings occur once per month and provide a space outside of the organization for reflection and brainstorming.

Written by Kristin Griffith and Sarah Richards

Published by CSVR Trauma Clinic

This blog represents thoughts of therapist working within the CSVR Trauma Clinic. The focus is on understanding the drivers and impact of violence on individuals, families and communities to work towards violence prevention and the building of peaceful societies

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