Counselling asylum seekers is ‘the best job in the world’, says our mental health nurse

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Rolled yoga matt

Seeing the progress that victims of torture make when they finally receive help for their mental health is the most rewarding feeling, says our mental health nurse.

Mental Health Practitioner Kate Izycki, who has worked with asylum seekers for 24 years, delivers mental health services to patients at The Assist Practice, many of whom are torture or rape victims.

Helping vulnerable people grow stronger mentally is the reason why she wouldn’t want to do any other job, Kate says.

Following a GP referral, Kate carries out a full assessment before designing tailor-made support for an individual, looking at how best she can support them. 

Asylum seekers tend to have very specific needs, Kate explained, with women making up about 60% of the patients she treats.

“They have usually experienced some kind of trauma, either in their country of origin or en route to the UK. There’s a trend at the moment of smugglers raping asylum seekers,” she said. 

“My patients also have the fear of being returned to their country, particularly if they have changed faith, as they face being tortured if they were to return. It’s that uncertainty and not knowing what’s going to happen to their lives or what will happen to them if they go back.”

Kate says she looks at an individual’s symptoms, such as the risk of self-harm, how they are sleeping and how they are feeling, before deciding on the best treatment path. 

For many, she said, just the act of sharing what happened to them can bring huge benefits.

She said: “Most of the people I see open up quite easily. They can’t wait to tell me their story because quite often, no one has taken an interest. They also have the luxury of time with me that they don’t get with the GP.

“I think it helps them with their own understanding of their trauma. Most people who make the decision to flee their country may not have experienced trauma before so they don’t understand why they feel the way they do.

“We talk through the trauma response and you can see the relief on their face when they know they’re not mad. As they progress, they become visibly more relaxed and they’re not as shaky, or tearful. They seek physical contact instead of shirking from it.”

Kate also offers practical advice to support her patients’ mental wellbeing. This can include tips to help them sleep better, such as adopting good sleep routines or taking part in more daytime activities so they are more physically and mentally ready for sleep. 

She works closely with our social prescriber to help patients get involved with new hobbies or college and language classes.

Kate also holds day-long mental health and wellbeing events every six weeks, with support from the Red Cross. The invited group spend the day taking part in activities including yoga, guided meditation, relaxation and trust exercises. The events have proved to be hugely popular, with patients very often asking to take part again.

Kate, who has a master’s degree in transcultural psychiatry and has completed studies in cognitive behavioural therapy, joined our organisation in 2017, working with Syrian families as part of the government’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme.  

Her experience makes it easy for her to gain the trust of patients, she says, with the biggest barrier being communication if an individual can’t speak much English.

Seeing how her patients respond to help makes her job “the best in the world”, Kate says.

“I love it and I wouldn’t dream of going back to mainstream healthcare now.”

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