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“Ukrainian Relief” initiative: A follow-up

Ukrainian language version found here.

About a year ago, the Foundation for Self Leadership began working with an advisory team to develop and implement what was considered then to be a modest “Ukrainian Relief Initiative.” The initiative would serve as a small contribution from the Foundation and IFS community to the people of Ukraine in a devastating time of war. The guiding principle for this initiative was, and is still, to assist therapeutic caregivers, whose needs are often left unmet when and whilst they serve others. This occurs even in ordinary times, let alone during a national emergency. So, as caregivers navigate the ongoing ravages of war and provide assistance and care for others, the Foundation sought a way to offer no-cost, trauma-informed, IFS-oriented therapy to these caregivers.

After nine months of planning, deliberation and discussion, the Foundation decided that our intent would be to provide psychological peer-to-peer support over the course of 16 weekly sessions. These were for Ukrainian behavioral health and wellness professionals, for the purposes of witnessing the emotional stresses and strains of the direct and indirect trauma related to their work with their clients. The aim was to provide unconditional acceptance and reassurance, and help these professionals build psychological resilience to continue the important work of addressing the mental health needs in their communities—including attention to their own emotional needs.

In preparation for this, the Foundation recruited a number of volunteer IFS-trained therapists, who would provide this peer-to-peer support as well as Ukrainian-English language interpreters to assist, given that many recipients did not present as English speakers. Both the volunteer therapists and interpreters participated in five preparedness workshops; workshops which covered issues such as cultural sensitivity, informed peer-to-peer engagement and guiding group work, among other topics.

The preparatory phase took months; yet, it was believed to be vital for the success of the initiative. Given that most peer IFS therapists were familiar with trauma treatments yet had never experienced war, it was essential to put the effects of war front and center before engaging the peer helpers. From grief and loss of stability, belongings, and loved ones, to the fear of losing home national sovereignty and identity, the problems to face were and are profound and thorny. Further, psychological modalities often address past traumas; this was trauma in the making. Mariia Musurivska, who serves as an interpreter for this initiative says, “Being involved in the initiative on the preparation phase, I see all that substantial huge work done behind the scenes to launch the project. That makes me feel confident that Ukrainians are never alone in their struggle for peace and freedom.”

In late 2022, the Foundation put out a call to Ukrainian behavioral health and wellness professionals to ascertain levels of interest in being part of the scheme. We were overwhelmed with the response, receiving more than 100 forms indicating interest and willingness to participate. We quickly realized we needed to rethink our model, a model that was predicated on a one-on-one relationship between volunteer therapist and Ukrainian recipient. We wanted to honor this relationship, but also make this initiative accessible to as many as possible. As such, we decided on a community model. The communities are comprised of one facilitator and three home groups. The home groups, where peer-to-peer engagement takes place, included one therapist, one interpreter (when needed), and five Ukrainian therapist recipients. Each community has no more than a total of 22 people.

To date, the initiative has engaged two full communities, one which began in January 2023 and the other in February 2023. Both have now completed 16 sessions. The first community was led by Tom Holmes, PhD, and the second by David Baird, LCSW, both highly skilled and trained IFS therapists. It has been humbling, inspiring, and moving work. Susan Dubay, a volunteer therapist with the first community says,

I felt drawn to the project from the beginning. I had a quiet peace in my system that came from Self. That being said, I had to work with Parts that came up intermittently because of doing something new and moving toward unimaginable pain and loss from our Ukrainian friends. The collective Self energy of Tom Holmes, the other IFS practitioners, the interpreters, Jen (our tech person), Julia (Wartenberg), and our Ukrainian fellows soothed my Parts. I have a sense of awe at what the Foundation has had the courage to take on and offer to our global neighbors. I love IFS and believe in this modality because of the greater good that is acknowledged, honored and served by this organization. I feel privileged to volunteer and participate in something that is changing our world to make it more habitable and safe for us all.

We at the Foundation are incredibly grateful to everyone who has helped make this initiative a success. But we also realize that we are continually learning how to make the work better for and more accessible to Ukrainians. In this vein, it is ever-evolving and manifesting. While this is still a very modest initiative, considering the vast need, the size of the communities exceeded our expectations. We’re touched that feedback from Ukrainian therapists served by the work – within Ukraine and those temporarily displaced – has been, by and large, very positive. The overwhelming response is that they are better connected with the world and do not feel alone and that The Foundation for Self Leadership‘s initiative was sufficiently valuable to them that the two communities we organised to help decided to continue being engaged with this project in some fashion.

The Foundation launched the third community in July 2023, led by Jeni Tyson. Additionally, this initiative has inspired some to pursue planning an IFS-oriented workshop in Lviv, north-western Ukraine. While this is still in the planning stage, we are grateful to those who are continuing this work.

You can support this effort with a donation to the “IFS Healing Corp for Humanitarian Crises” fund. Make a gift here.

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