Psychological First Aid Peer Support – Myanmar

Case study – ‘Well-being hour’ aftermath of crisis events 

Overall, I think FD Consultants have built a safe and empowering environment where we are able to support ourselves, so we are able to support others.”  
(Peer supporter) 

We can get mental release during the sessions, and we can get very peaceful in mind and body.  

We can forget the miserable things happening in Myanmar for a moment of that time.” 
(Participant wellbeing sessions) 

FD Consultants offer Psychological First Aid (PFA) Peer Support training to organisations. A PFA Peer Support programme offers a sustainable and economical solution to staff wellbeing. PFA Peer Support is an evidence-informed support aimed specifically at equipping non-specialist personnel to offer basic mental health first aid to colleagues in distress in a way that promotes their coping strategies. Below we share a case study of embedding a peer support programme in Myanmar. 

Background

Following the military coup on 1st February 2021, Myanmar remains a fragile and hostile operating environment. In the post-coup period, implementation of project activities was suspended, and a Crisis Management Team established to support the country team to respond to a range of complex challenges including: 

  • Political instability following declaration of state of emergency until August 2023 
  • Increasing safety and security issues  
  • New banking and finance regulations  
  • Challenging legal and operational context  
  • Internet shutdowns and disruptions to power supply 
  • Collapse of basic services including health care and education 
  • High levels of Covid-19 cases 
  • Rising prices and increasing poverty levels (to 2005 levels) 
  • High levels of trauma affecting staff, volunteers and primary actors 
  • Growing humanitarian crisis 

Timeline

In March, VSO set up a plan with FD Consultants to offer support to the staff and volunteers working in Myanmar; 

  • 5 team counselling sessions were facilitated by a Burmese counsellor for all Myanmar staff and volunteers   
  • During this time a team of 6 peer supporters were established. They received psychological first aid training with one of FD Consultants trainers.  
  • Peer supporters worked alongside the counsellor for the first 5 sessions and were made known to the team. They facilitated breakout room discussions and the national peer supporters were able to set up and advise groupings based on preference for Myanmar or English speakers.  
  • Following the counselling sessions, the peer supporters established a weekly well-being session, using the activities and approaches taken from the training received.  
  • Weekly well-being sessions are ongoing. The peer supporters have a schedule to ensure that two lead each week and that the role doesn’t add too much pressure on their work loads. The sessions run with as few or as many that can attend. Some colleagues come regularly, and others drop in when they can.    
  • Peer supporters receive a monthly supervision session with FD Consultants to discuss any challenges, their own well-being, reflect on sessions and discuss the changing context of staff and volunteers attending.  

Reflections from a peer supporter 


As we approach a year of offering weekly well-being sessions to our colleagues in Myanmar, we have been reflecting on the year, how our sessions have changed and how we have all transformed in our ability as peer supporters under the supervision and guidance of Fiona and her team.  

We reflected on the early sessions where we were looking through our training notes and planning carefully how to respond to any stories of trauma. Now, we welcome these conversations and feel very well equipped to go with the flow, open the space for discussion and adapt each session based on what we feel is needed.  

Our initial training provided us with information around emotional distress and time to discuss different responses to stress and trauma. Whilst the exercises to practice using scenarios felt hard at the time, they were an excellent opportunity to rehearse how we might respond to different experiences our colleagues might be facing. We explored strategies to create a safe space and discussed the differences between empathy and sympathy. This is something we looked at further in our supervision sessions and for me personally changed my approach to the role entirely.  

Whilst we continue to ask each week for feedback and suggestions for content for future sessions, around six months in, we asked our colleagues in Myanmar to complete a short survey. In response to asking how the sessions have supported them over the last six months, one colleague said, “Helps reduce stress and bad feelings, brings delight and feeling free after the session, feeling of happiness and escape from the present, felt calmer during Coup and Covid 19.” Another said It is a good session for all especially as we can get mental release during the sessions and we can get very peaceful in mind and body. We can forget the miserable things happen in Myanmar for a moment of that time.” 

During the year mostly colleagues have been working remotely and some haven’t met in person despite working in the same team for over a year now. In the same survey, it was helpful to reflect on that and the desire for our colleagues to want to come together, feel connected as a group in an informal way, separate to an online meeting. After this, we planned in more opportunities for them to get to know each other and connect as a group. This built on the training we had about resilience factors, the feeling of safety, connection to others, feeling calm and hopeful. Another comment about the reason for participating was to “Share feelings and challenges of life, listen and learn from others’ ways on solving the situation.” The space we have created feels safe for our colleagues to talk freely, without judgement and they often reflect on what each other say and encourage each other, acknowledging that they are not alone in how they might feel or respond.  

In the early months, our supervision sessions with FD Consultants helped us (the peer supporters) to understand our role more clearly and remember that we are not professionals. The stories being shared were often upsetting and we admitted at times we didn’t really know how to respond. This is the beauty of the model of having six of us as we would step in, support each other, and take the lead if it felt appropriate. This support has continued amongst us as a group. Fiona suggested a group chat which has made us stronger as a group and our sessions more effective. We comment on each other’s sessions, make suggestions for next sessions, or discuss if we need to check in with specific colleagues following sessions.  

What I appreciate most about the peer supervision we’re getting is that the process allows us to reflect on our feelings and how we are also affected by and respond to the external environment. We are given the opportunity to experience and reflect on the exercises, tools shared to us so that we are better placed to use them appropriately. Overall, I think Fiona has built a safe and empowering environment where we are able to support ourselves, so we are able to support others.” (Peer supporter) 

More recently, FD Consultants has given us guidance on how to facilitate a session that marks the anniversary of the ongoing military coup. As peer supporters we had noted there was anxiety in the sessions leading up to it and our colleagues had talked about fears that something would happen. Time to reflect on that in the supervision session and plan together really helped. Our time in supervision each month, gives us insights to the theory for us to link to models we are using in our well-being sessions and ideas to continue to support our colleagues a year into the ongoing fragile context that they are working and living in.   

“With FD Consultants guidance and supervision, it gives me more ideas for the sessions and my confidence has grown gradually.” (Peer supporter) 

To read more about FD Consultants PFA peer support programme please click here.  

Author: Written by VSO Peer Supporter, Nicola Whybrow, Education Technical Lead Myanmar VSO.

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Work with FD Consultants

FD Consultants is here to help any organisation looking to offer their staff with effective, empathetic, and collaborative psychological support. We are a source of hope and strength when it feels like you haven’t got any left. Reach out to our team of specialists today to discuss the situation you or your workplace is facing, and let us find a proven, evidence-based solution to navigate you through this challenging period.

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Molly and the Two Pigeons (Audiobook ver)

Molly and the Two Pigeons is a short story for upper primary and lower secondary school children to teach them about Coronavirus in a fun and light-hearted way, and records a significant period of time in history. It could also be used as a teaching tool for parents or teachers.

A loveable puppy called Molly forms a friendship with two racing pigeons, Destiny and Grace, who live in a wooden hut in the adjacent garden. Grace is kind-hearted and takes a liking to Molly, Destiny is arrogant and is known as the fastest pigeon in the South, proven by his collection of medals. Their circle of friends expands to include Marv the wise Mandarin Duck, Flash Gordon the Goose, and Merlin the Mosquito.

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Proceeds will be gifted to a charity to support the NHS and all those needing additional support from the impact of Coronavirus.

Trauma and counselling interview (Flirt Radio)

Mindfulness Exercise Series: Breathing & Relaxation

More than ever, people are talking about mindfulness. But what is it and how could it help you? Mindfulness can help you manage your wellbeing and mental health. It can enable you to:

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✓ positively change the way you think and feel about your experiences (especially stressful experiences)
✓ increase your ability to manage difficult situations
✓ make wiser choices
✓ reduce levels of anxiety
✓ reduce levels of depression
✓ reduce levels of stress
✓ reduce the amount you chew things over in your mind
✓ have greater self-compassion

Mindfulness is not fluffy nonsense nor is it a passing fad, there is a great deal of research evidencing that mindfulness changes the plasticity of our brain. But, it does take effort and work to develop mindfulness skills and time to practice them.

In this, the first series of mindfulness exercises I share some simple breathing and relaxation techniques to help you unwind and take some time for yourself.

If you like this exercise then please get in touch with FD Consultants today to find out about their mindfulness and wellbeing courses.

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Mindfulness Exercise 6: Mountain Meditation

Meditation is the collective term for a number of techniques used to still the mind, relax the body and produce a state of inner harmony. It differs from sleep, hypnosis or other types of relaxation simply because your mind remains alert.

There are many ways to meditate. You can meditate while sitting, walking, or practising yoga, but it is easiest to learn by sitting comfortably in a quiet room for several minutes twice a day, every day. There are 2 basic steps: to focus on a single word or phrase (of your choice – perhaps “peace” or “one”, or a religious word) or simply to focus on your breath; and to ignore or disregard all other thoughts.

When we focus on a single word, thought or image, we produce a state of calm that increases mental alertness, while relaxing other body systems.

Meditating twice a day for 15-20 minutes has been shown to be the most effective. Make an effort to practice every day, even if it’s initially only for 5 minutes. You may find it’s easiest to meditate first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

One of our favourite meditations is “The Mountain Meditation” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It encourages us to seek inner stability and peace, even in the face unpredictable change and chaos. Here is an adaptation of Kabat-Zinn’s classic guided meditation, we hope you enjoy it and find it useful.

If you like this exercise then please get in touch with FD Consultants today to find out about their mindfulness and wellbeing courses.

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Many people who meditate have had unusual encounters with healing light. They find the experience perplexing. There’s no logical source for this light; so where does it originate? Individuals experience this light in different ways. One meditator might see giant glowing white balls, while another one might see tiny comet-streaked white sparkles. Experiencing a light during meditation is common, but subjective. There are many benefits to following this healing light meditation, such as enhancing overall wellbeing, boosting self-esteem and feelings of connectedness and it can be used to help “clear” any painful emotions you may be experiencing.

If you like this exercise then please get in touch with FD Consultants today to find out about their mindfulness and wellbeing courses.

Mindfulness Exercise 4: Body Scan Meditation

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The body scan meditation is effective in relieving stress not only because of the mind-clearing aspects present in all forms of meditation but because of the physical component as well. Research shows that there are physical and psychological benefits to relaxing the body and relieving tension. Relieving physical tension, for example, has been shown to lead to a decrease in psychological stress, even when no psychologically-based stress relief efforts are made. Tension relieved in the body can lead to lower stress levels and lower reactivity to future stress, which can, in turn, lead to less physical tension as a result of stress.

In this way, this meditation works to break the cycle of physical and psychological tension that can feed on itself. Because of this, the body scan meditation is a very useful and effective meditation that can help you to stay relaxed mentally and physically, and return to a relaxed state when you become too tense. You can try a body scan meditation right now by following this simple video exercise.

If you like this exercise then please get in touch with FD Consultants today to find out about their mindfulness and wellbeing courses.

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If you like this exercise then please get in touch with FD Consultants today to find out about their mindfulness and wellbeing courses.

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If you like this exercise then please get in touch with FD Consultants today to find out about their mindfulness and wellbeing courses.

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This centuries old breathing technique for meditation has re-surfaced in the past few years and is being used by athletes, performers, doctors, and even navy seals, as their most effective strategy for quickly entering a calm, centered state of mind and body; especially when they are in an intense situation where they need to be fully present and directly connected to their best self/highest self. Many people report that when breathing is used as part of their meditation it has a dramatic, positive impact on their inner and outer wellbeing.

If you like this exercise then please get in touch with FD Consultants today to find out about their mindfulness and wellbeing courses.

Psychosocial Support for Humanitarian Aid Workers:
A Roadmap of Trauma and Critical Incident Care

Get your copy of Fiona’s book, Psychosocial Support for Humanitarian Aid Workers. It will appeal to all those working in the field of humanitarian aid, counsellors and psychotherapists, emergency first responders, as well as those who are looking to support themselves after surviving trauma.

Molly and the Two Pigeons

Molly and the Two Pigeons is a short story for upper primary and lower secondary school children to teach them about Coronavirus in a fun and light-hearted way, and records a significant period of time in history. It could also be used as a teaching tool for parents or teachers.

A loveable puppy called Molly forms a friendship with two racing pigeons, Destiny and Grace, who live in a wooden hut in the adjacent garden. Grace is kind-hearted and takes a liking to Molly, Destiny is arrogant and is known as the fastest pigeon in the South, proven by his collection of medals. Their circle of friends expands to include Marv the wise Mandarin Duck, Flash Gordon the Goose, and Merlin the Mosquito.

This strange group of friends become united through one cause, to find a cure for the Coronavirus and help the people. Their adventures take them far and wide. They travel to China and learn about the origins of Coronavirus. They explore the Yangtze River, where they learn about the legend of the mountain peaks. They head to South Korea, where they learn about “Track and Trace” to prevent the spread of the virus. They also visit Oxford, England, where they explore how a vaccine is made. Their trip to Oxford coincides with a visit from Prince William, who Molly takes a great liking to and manages to get a royal stroke from.

Proceeds will be gifted to a charity to support the NHS and all those needing additional support from the impact of Coronavirus.

Download the first chapter of the audiobook for free – click here