Solution 14:36 24 May 2023

"Not everyone needs a psychologist, but everyone should know how to help themselves and others:" Kyiv Resilience Center teaches how to cope with trauma

On April 4, the first psychological support training center in Ukraine, the Kyiv Resilience Center, was opened in the capital. Rubryka looked into its work and found out who would benefit from the solution.

What is the problem?

Specialists need support

Communal workers, police officers, doctors, transport industry representatives, and numerous other specialists who ensure the life of the capital have chronic fatigue and other signs of professional burnout. They need support to overcome stressful situations and be in a resourceful state.

What is the solution?

The first stress resilence center in Ukraine opened in Kyiv. First of all, it aims to provide an opportunity for critical infrastructure workers to acquire psychological self-help skills. Then they might scale this knowledge in their teams and families. The center will also conduct individual and family counseling for municipal professionals experiencing loss, burnout, as well as for military families.

Not everyone needs a psychologist, but everyone should know how to help themselves and others is the slogan of the new institution.

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"Besides borscht, what else can we do?"

The gender equality department of the department of social policy of the Kyiv City State Administration manages the Kyiv Resilience Center. The idea arose out of a vital need.

"When the full-scale invasion began, after the first shock, we all thought about how to help," Tetyana Guzenko, head of the gender equality department of the department of social policy, recalls the events of early 2022. "The Kyiv City Children's Home, where volunteers temporarily gathered, is near my place. I came there with an offer to help."

Since the beginning of March, the institution director Lydia Novak literally lived there. It turned out that dry rations were brought to the Territorial Defense, and they asked for something hot. When the volunteers were peeling potatoes together, it turned out that some of them were psychologists. They began to discuss what else besides borscht they could do.

Тетяна Гузенко

This is how the idea arose for professional psychologists to unite and provide assistance to people who found shelter in the subway on a volunteer basis. There were children, displaced people who lost their homes and relatives, fled shelling, and did not know where to go or stay.

The initiators decided to create a mobile brigade of psychologists, divided the stations, and agreed with the police and the military that the psychologists would help people restore their psycho-emotional state at least a little.

It was tough work, according to Guzenko. After the first month, half of the psychologists burned out. They simply did not know the protocols for working with psychological trauma during the war. When people said: "my house was destroyed, "my grandfather was killed in front of me," or "my child stopped talking and started peeing. What should I do?" the psychologists were devastated.

Those who remained began to look for a place to study. First of all, they found those who trained psychologists to work in Donetsk and Luhansk regions in 2014-2015 since the war has been going on there for some time already. As it turned out, the Israeli Trauma Coalition (ITS), which has many years of experience, was very successful there. Establishing this partnership was the first step toward the future Center for Stress Resilience.

Why is this solution necessary?

The center partners with the Institute of Psychology named after H.S. Kostyuk, studying the psycho-emotional state of Ukrainians. For example, in November 2022, people talked about increased anxiety, panic attacks, and emotional swings. Already in February-March, specialists of the Institute, at the center's request, conducted a study of the psychological stability of specialists who ensure the vital activity of Kyiv, Guzenko shares.

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The infographic shows that after the past year of the war, the specialists ensuring capital's vital work, 58.7% feel exhausted, 40.5 % have trouble sleeping, 35.4% experience constant stress, 29.5% feel anger and annoyance, 26.8% are scared, 20.5% have the feeling of despair and weakness, 10% feel lonely, 15.5% are in a good and excellent emotional state, and 9.9% are depressed. These are social workers, doctors, communal workers, educators, transporters, and representatives of other professions.

The most important task of the Stress Resilience Center is to maintain the stability of those who hold the city.

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At the same time, when asked who they turn to for support, most respondents chose relatives. The majority of people who need support are not ready to turn to psychologists.

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According to the infographic, 75% of respondents turn to their relatives when they need help, 52.3% to friends, 23.7 to colleagues, and 23.7 to children. Only 23.8 % of respondents voiced the readiness to turn to a therapist.

The interviewed employees who provide the vital activities of the capital support the need for group trainings and classes to strengthen psychological stability — 83.4%, and 16.6% are against it ("I will not go to a psychologist, but if they come to us — then okay").

The newly created center will work according to Israeli methods but considering the Ukrainian context.

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Hug dog and other techniques

The main purpose of the Center is not psychological help but prevention. The better the civilian population knows how to help themselves in difficult situations, the fewer people will need to consult a psychologist.

"We can offer many opportunities that will help people to cope with their condition," say Yaroslava Popovych and Olena Shlykova, psychologists of the Center.

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If it is primary assistance, then during a personal session, the psychologist will conduct a conversation and talk about self-help techniques. The facility has a sand therapy specialist, metaphorical maps, other tools, and a hug dog. This soft toy with disproportionately long paws for a dog is designed to help children and adults relax and open up. On the dog's front paws is velcro, thanks to which it should be easy to hug the toy, look into its sad eyes and tell why it and, in fact, the person who came to meet with the specialist is so sad. This toy is a gift from the Israeli Trauma Coalition.

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Cascade method

Since the task of the center is to raise the stress resistance of citizens not just at the personal level but specifically at the level of organizations that maintain the stability of the entire city, trainings for critical infrastructure workers will take place there so that they can develop psychological assistance skills for themselves.

"The cascade method works. Everything starts with the management, followed by the organization's team, explains psychologist Shlykova. "When the team members are in a normal resource state, they will transfer it to their families. That's how it all branches out."

Prevention of burnout at the workplace will be carried out for critical infrastructure workers. In addition, unfortunately, many teams experience losses among employees or native team members.

"The psycho-emotional state of someone who has lost someone affects everyone else. It is necessary to work not only with this person but also with the entire team so that they not only do not do too much in communicating with these people but also to establish communication within the team," says Shlykova.

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Soft redirect

Currently, the Kyiv Resilience Center is engaged in project activities — it receives applications from various organizations and analyzes them. Then there will be a series of webinars for representatives of these organizations.

Reception at the center is by appointment. A soft redirection system will work there.

"Our project coordinator examines the request during a telephone conversation. If she understands that a person needs some kind of highly specialized help, she will provide him with the necessary contacts of other organizations, says psychologist of the Center Popovych. "Our task is to ensure that every person who comes in contact with a problematic situation receives a kind of case management — where they can go next, what help they can get, so that they do not remain helpless."

The main target group of the Center is now the first point of contact of specialists, those who themselves assist people, as well as employees of the city's critical infrastructure. At the same time, not all team members will be trained, but several. Then they have to spread this knowledge among colleagues — this is how scaling will work.

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​​Demobilized service members and their family members, volunteers can also contact the Resilence Center for help on an individual basis.

Good neighbor

The next stage of the center's work may be training under the Good Neighbor program. It is about the formation of stress resistance and the skills of the correct response to an emergency of residents of apartment buildings. It intends to teach the board or the condominium activists what to do if the projectile or a rocket hits the house or nearby houses. "We gather two or three people, teach the basics of psychological first aid, and they bring this knowledge to other residents," Guzenko says about the activity, which has already been well mastered in Israel.

The third stage, according to her, is working with military personnel, wives, and other family members of fallen service members. Psychological support, networking of the project according to the principle of "equal to equal," etc. The center will provide practices based on Israeli protocols on how women can support each other. One day of the week will be reserved for military wives who can meet in a self-help group in the center.

This will gradually increase the stress resistance of the entire city.

How was this solution implemented?

The appearance of the first psychological support training center in Ukraine was the result of partnership cooperation of:

  • The deputy head of the Kyiv City State Administration (KCSA), Maryna Honda, provided curatorial support for the project;
  • The Kyiv City State Administration provided premises for the center;
  • The department of social policy of the KCSA takes over communal services;
  • The Embassy of Canada in Ukraine provided funds for repairs in the center;
  • The UN Population Fund in Ukraine provided office equipment;
  • The Israeli Trauma Coalition (ITS) provided organizational support and transfer of experience: training of psychologists, familiarization with numerous algorithms for working with various groups that have received psychological trauma;
  • Various types of support were also provided to the NGO New Social Vector and the NGO Innovative Social Solutions.

In the future, the center will constantly seek and attract donor support for the implementation of projects.

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How can this solution be extended?

Guzenko expects that overcoming new psychological challenges will be implemented in the work of the capital's social services center.

"There was a new request for work with military trauma and psychological trauma. This prevention is important for the city, ensuring stress resistance in order not to allow fear to rule the city and people," says the head of the gender equality department of the department of social policy.

The center of resilience is a model that can change during work. The Israeli trauma coalition will accompany the project until May 2024, and then the city authorities must decide how it will be scaled.

Тетяна Гузенко

Guzenko has an idea to create an umbrella structure based on the example of Israel, which will unite similar developments in different cities. At the end of April, representatives of the Israeli Trauma Coalition came to Ukraine. Several meetings were held at the Center for Stress Resilience, including with organizations that had already signed memorandums of cooperation with the Israeli Trauma Coalition. These are Kyiv, Kharkiv, Ternopil, Zaporizhzhia, Khmelnytskyi, and Bucha representatives. Guzenko sees a possible collaboration as a project of MOZHU: International Association of Sustainability of Ukraine, a kind of platform for sharing experiences. This will make it possible to develop the best solutions and accumulate more aid from donor organizations for their implementation.

Photo: Mykola Tymchenko


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