As part of our My View children’s therapeutic care project, our therapists run weekly psycho-educational groups which provide a supportive space for young refugees in the UK on their own to learn new social skills and find ways to manage their new life here.
Working alongside a drama therapist, Refugee Council children’s therapist Sarah Temple-Smith has recently started a drama therapy group in Stratford, East London.
The first young people, all Albanians boys, arrive half an hour early and sit quietly around the edge of the room, enjoying the biscuits and squash we’ve laid on for them. They seem quite shy and unsure what to expect. More young people arrive.
At five o’clock the drama therapist asks us to move back all the chairs and stand in a circle. Then she throws a ball to someone, at the same time saying their name and hers. We follow suit.
A few minutes later there’s a knock at the door. It’s a young woman who has made a two-hour journey all the way from her college in Kingston to be here. The rest of the group welcomes her and introductions are started all over again. We go on with the game.
Then the rules change – now we have to speed up and include the name of whoever who threw the ball to us as well. This is harder, and within minutes everybody is laughing and teasing each other, and I notice we have started using each other’s names and relating to each other as individuals. More games follow, some imaginative, like walking in any style called out by their friends; others cooperative, such as untangling themselves while still keeping their hands clasped.
The group then draws up a working agreement which one of them writes out. They include respecting each other’s diverse cultural backgrounds, keeping everything confidential, not using mobiles and speaking in English –unless anyone needs help with translations. The agreement goes up on the wall to be referred to and added to as and when they want over the next seven weeks.
Time seems to fly by and as 6.30pm approaches the drama therapist lays out piles of photos. She asks us to pick out two, one representing positive thoughts to take away and one negative feelings to leave behind.
The young people spend a lot of time thinking about this, picking up and laying down different choices, sharing how they are feeling after the group and the difficulties they’re coping with in their lives. It feels quite emotional and I have a sense that they have already started to trust the group – and themselves.