• fear for your safety because your country is unstable
  • have witnessed cruel acts of violence and suffering
  • know that your only chance for survival is fleeing your home, your culture, and your country
  • are now warehoused in a camp amongst thousands of others struggling for survival
  • experience anger over the lack of resources in the camp, but with no legal status, you can’t work
  • hope camp life is temporary, but going home may not be an option and only 1% get resettled
  • are anxious because your future is unknown


You – are a refugee

At WRDA we are fortunate to have an on-site counseling center to help meet the emotional needs of the refugees we serve. Celebrating 15 years of service in June, the WRDA Counseling Center is comprised of four mental health professionals and two trained group facilitators who care for clients through a variety of modalities: individual and family therapy, adjustment groups, and community resources such as a visiting psychiatrist for those who require medication.  During 2013, the counseling center staff served approximately 176 severely traumatized refugees and over 300 individuals through adjustment groups.

According to Liliana Popovic, Counseling Center Director, no matter the circumstances, resettlement is always challenging because the process requires refugees to “move-on” and adjust to their new surroundings quickly.  “Our job as counselors is to help normalize the process as much as possible,” said Popovic.

Due to the difficulties refugees face upon arrival, such as learning a new language and acquiring job skills, stress and anxiety are high amongst the population.  Therefore, refugees are assessed upon arrival and a treatment plan is recommended.  Those who present with severe mental health issues are matched with a counselor, while others are connected to a support group.

When it comes to treatment, the main obstacle our counselors face is that western practices of therapy are not effective when working with people from different cultures.  For that reason, after learning about their background, the counselor helps the client regulate their emotions by reduplicating a task or an experience from their country of origin; for example, sewing, gardening or music.   By associating the client’s feelings to something that was a part of their daily life, the refugee gains a new confidence and hope.

Another tool that the Counseling Center utilizes is the adjustment group.  Varying in size and duration, the groups give clients the opportunity to find affinity, become more self-aware, and learn new coping skills.  These groups help to normalize difficult experiences and provide support and strength through sharing.

Overall, the main goal of the WRDA Counseling Center is to provide care during the adjustment period— helping the client plant the deep roots of stability.   “What we do has an impact on the resettlement process, both here at WRDA and organization wide,” said Popovic.

With regards to the next 15 years, the Counseling Center team hopes that treating refugees will become more mainstream in the mental health field.  Click here to learn more about the WRDA Counseling Center.

The Most Traumatized Population on Earth

According to Dr. Issam Smeir, WRDA Senior Mental Health Counselor, refugees are the most traumatized population on earth.  In fact, he estimates that approximately 90% suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Originally from Jordan, Dr. Smeir came to the U.S. approximately 12 years ago to earn a doctorate in psychology. At the same time, he joined the Counseling Center staff at World Relief.  As one of the few Arab-speaking experts in the field of Narrative Exposure Therapy [NET], a treatment for survivors of multiple traumas, Dr. Smeir has a passion for training counselors in the Middle East and Africa on ways to effectively treat victims of trauma—especially refugees.

Dr. Smeir teaches counselors techniques exclusive to helping refugees process their trauma and understand what is happening to their bodies, minds and psyches. He acknowledges that trusting others is difficult for refugees because their hearts have hardened over the years.

While refugees living in camps receive housing, water, and food—professional help to deal with emotional pain is scarce. Syrian refugees without financial resources end-up in a camp, where the violence and trauma continues. With the UNHCR reporting over two million Syrian refugees, in 2013 Dr. Smeir traveled to his home country to train local metal health works serving inside the camps.

Dr. Smeir is an advocate for early intervention because only 1% of the world’s refugees get resettled to another country. As a result, in 2014 he will once again return to Jordan to provide further training for local counselors.

If you would like to learn how you can pray for the crisis in Syria and Syrian refugees, click here.