November 9, 2017

Leila* chose a career in psychosocial support for a simple, but powerful reason – “to help people” she says, sitting in a small office tucked away in SAMS’s multi-specialty clinic in the Bekaa Valley.

Before she left her hometown in the rural Damascus, she worked in special education, providing care at a center for children with special needs.

Now in the Bekaa Valley, Leila provides individual therapy sessions to refugees in the area, treating women and children with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  

In Lebanon, there are an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees who have fled from their homes, seeking safety. The real number, however, is much higher. Refugees live in informal settlements and urban areas, struggling to access consistent health care, clean water and sanitation, and education.

As a Syrian volunteer psychotherapist with SAMS, she understands the complexities of what her patients have gone through, and the challenges they face in displacement.  This, however, has also made it difficult for her to disconnect from her work at the end of the day.

“It’s been hard to separate personal life from work. It was hard to prevent myself from caring, from bringing the patients’ stories from the clinic to my home.”

Syrian refugees in Lebanon struggle to access basic necessities, including consistent nutrition, employment and income. Leila describes a patient of hers, a Syrian refugee struggling with depression. The main source of her distress, Leila says, is her rent. The family’s rent is 200 dollars, while their income is 100.

“She can do CBT, or get medication, but not solving the problem, which is money,” says Leila. Leila formulated a plan to confer with the social worker on her team, in order to find an NGO to help her patient fulfill this need.  

Despite the emotional weight of her vocation, Leila finds great satisfaction in seeing her patients improve, especially when they tell her that they still think about her advice, and that her advice helps them to feel better.

Although refugees have many tangible, daily needs, including food and shelter, psychologically, one crucial, unanswered need stands out to her — safety.

“Families are scattered. There’s no sense of family, safety, connection or belonging – all of that has been lost.”

* Names have been changed to protect identity of interviewee.