Counseling service for refugees expands to Kent

Social worker Farhiya Mohamed displays baskets and other items in a weaving group organized by International Counseling and Community Services. (Photo by Venice Buhain.)
Social worker Farhiya Mohamed displays baskets and other items in a weaving group organized by International Counseling and Community Services. (Photo by Venice Buhain)

A longtime clinic that specializes in mental health care for international victims of torture and oppression expanded to Kent, where many incoming refugees have found their new homes.

International Counseling and Community Services, which is based in SeaTac, recently expanded operations to Kent, where about 4 percent of the city’s population are refugees.

Counselors and case workers not only needed more space for client appointments to address the growing need, but wanted to be in the neighborhood where many of the clients live and work.

The community can feel that we are here. They can walk to here, take the bus to here. We wanted to be in Kent,” said clinical director Andrew Kritovich.

The counseling services, a program of Lutheran Community Services Northwest, has existed for about 25 years, and today offers counseling services in 16 languages. Many of the licensed counselors are immigrants, Kritovich said, and some of the counselors and staff, like himself, are refugees.

“We are trying to serve the community and empower the community,” said Kritovich, who came to Kent from Ukraine with his family as a teenager.

Refugees can suffer from not only Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but also depression, anxiety and isolation, after the experience of fleeing their home countries and adjusting to relocation. The clinic serves clients from a variety of cultures, some of which have a stigma against mental health treatment.

In some places, when you talk about ‘psychiatric treatment,’ they think that means you’ll be locked up,” said Sonya Svoboda, clinical coordinator.

“We are careful about the language we use. We talk about emotional support, rather than mental health therapy,” Svoboda said.

Some Western mental health concepts, such as group therapy, have equivalents in other cultures, Kritovich said.

Story-sharing is a big part of many cultures,” Kritovich said. Aside from one-on-one counseling, the SeaTac clinic offers knitting and weaving circles where women refugees can meet each other and talk in their native languages.

The activities provide a safe space to share, as well as companionship to fight isolation, which is a common issue.

The offices also provide connection to other social services and case workers who can help with housing, jobs, education and other issues.

“If someone is facing an eviction, it’s not enough to say, ‘Oh, and how do you feel about that,’ ” Kritovich said.

The center serves about 5,000 refugees a year at its counseling offices and Family Resource Center.

Risho Sapano, a counselor from Sudan who speaks Arabic, says that sharing languages, religion and other similarities helps the clients gain trust in their counselors.

“Being from the same religion and speaking in the same language, you can know what makes an impact, what helps them relax, if you have the same grounds,” Sapano said. “That helps us develop the treatment plan in a culturally appropriate way.”

In the past week since the Paris attacks that killed about 130 people national rhetoric has heated up against refugees (Washington being a notable exception). Program director Beth Farmer said that their office has been hearing from the general public who have been welcoming.

I am getting people calling our office and saying, ‘I’ll take in a refugee,’” Farmer said.

She said that a similar reaction of fear on the national level happened after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but news about attacks such as the ones in Paris and Beirut last week actually can be “triggering emotionally” for refugees.

“It reinforces both the reality and belief that the world is not a safe place,” Farmer said. “They know about this. Our clients have first-hand experience escaping from this.

“We know what they’ve endured,” she added.

“Einstein was a refugee. The Dalai Lama is a refugee. Refugees are doctors and lawyers and scientists and they have skills to offer,” Farmer said. “Maybe we haven’t done a good job telling that story.

Clinical director Andrew Kritovich, background, celebrates at the grand opening of the International Counseling and Community Services' new facility in Kent. (Photo by Venice Buhain.)
Clinical director Andrew Kritovich, background, celebrates with a community member at the grand opening of the International Counseling and Community Services’ new facility in Kent. (Photo by Venice Buhain.)

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