Group Therapy: Help in order to deal with the trauma


Today, approximately 7,000 survivors of human trafficking in the Sinai are living in Israel. Only a few of them are getting governmental aid. Our partner organization ASSAF, Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, is offering free therapy sessions to refugees. For many Sinai survivors the only way to talk about their cruel experiences with violence and to cope with their trauma. We are raising funds for the financing of this group therapy to provide the opportunity of psychosocial support to as many torture survivors as possible.

None of the survivors of the Sinai is officially recognized as a victim of torture (VOT) and only less than 300 of them are recognized as victims of human trafficking (VOHT) by the Israeli government, which allows them to receive rehabilitation from the State for one year. All the others are not granted public aid. ASSAF Aid Organization is one of very few organizations providing psychosocial assistance to victims of torture and trafficking that have not been recognized by the State. That’s why ASSAF Aid Organization is such an important refuge Sinai survivors who experienced severe violence while being held hostage.

Some are talking about their experiences for the first time

During our stay in Israel we talked to Ashley De Regil, social worker and program coordinator at ASSAF Aid Organization. Throughout the year she treats about 70 clients individually on top of about another 90 from the groups. Much more are in need, but unfortunately ASSAF cannot offer therapy for all of them. In our interview, that we captured as video, Ashley explains what the therapy means to the victims of torture and human trafficking. With all their offers, Ashley and her colleagues are currently reaching about 1,500 refugees and migrants of which the majority comes from Eastern African countries. Almost one in four of them falls prey to severe mistreatments on the Sinai peninsula. Every single story of these people bears witness to inconceivable cruelty. But talking to therapists and people who share their fate help them to cope with their experiences and to summon new courage to face life.

A safe environment to open up

Therapy groups for Sinai survivors are made up of 10 to 15 participants and are divided into men and women. The sessions take place once a week over a time period of 15 weeks. Social worker Ashley De Regil tells us that, at the beginning, the participants are often skeptical and wonder why they should share their problems and experiences with other people. Especially for men it was hard to talk about their experiences and their feelings in a group. However, most of them notice after a few sessions that it helps them to share their story with others. They noticed that they are not alone and that there are others who had experienced similar things. “This year, for the first time, there are more men participating in the groups than women”, Ashley said. “We experienced that it is easier for men to open up when the therapist is a woman.”

In order to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, ASSAF’s therapists work with the torture victims using the recognized “Resilience Model”, that was developed by Israeli psychologist Dr. Hamiel. In therapy the participants learn how to deal with their feelings and problems. The discussions help them to help themselves by talking about topics like mindfulness and dealing with emotions like anger, fear and shame. Art therapy is another method to help the participants to open up through an alternative form of expression.

Useful aid in everyday life

The first part of each session is mainly about providing the participants with a safe place where they can open up to each other. In the second part they often get external input that supports them in everyday life in an as concrete form as possible. Therefore, ASSAF Aid Organization is frequently inviting employees of partner organizations like Amnesty international, the Gesher (Mental Health) Clinic or the UN who inform the participants about aid offers or explain where and under which conditions they can receive governmental help.

If the participants need further help after the 15 sessions, they know that they will find an open and receiving ear at ASSAF. The organization offers open consultation hours on Sunday and Wednesday between 4 and 9 pm, where former group therapy participants can also come to. For example, whether a person needs individual mentoring, due to the severeness of what they had experienced, or not, the psychologist find out in the group therapy and offer them the opportunity of individual mentoring if possible, says Ashley.

Demanding access to governmental aid programs

Due to the big amount of aid needed, ASSAF Aid Organization is only taking care of those who are not officially recognized as victims of torture and human trafficking. This is, however, the far bigger group of people. The need of help exceeds the capacities that ASSAF Aid Organization can provide and therefore the employees try to get the people who have a chance of being recognized as victims to be granted this aid. Currently, about 20 people are going through this long-lasting process. One person who Ashley is counseling is waiting for more than two years now to get recognized.

To ameliorate the conditions for torture victims, ASSAF Aid Organization in cooperation with the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims is reporting regularly to the UN Committee Against Torture (UN-CAT) in a shadow report about the situation of (Sinai) torture survivors in Israel. By this important part of its work, ASSAF Aid Organization is trying to make it possible or easier to get access to governmental aid in the medium- or long-term.

You want to help?

Until the rights for torture victims are changed for the better, it is now on us to help those who are suffering from the consequences of cruel abuse. If you want to help ASSAF with a donation to make it possible for more Sinai survivors to receive professional therapy, please send us an email to

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