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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 19  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 118-120

Personal Reflections on Problem Management Plus: Written by Syrian Helpers at Stichting Nieuw Thuis, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Syrian helpers of Stichting Nieuw Thuis, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Date of Submission30-Sep-2020
Date of Decision23-Dec-2020
Date of Acceptance23-Dec-2020
Date of Web Publication31-Mar-2021

Correspondence Address:
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/INTV.INTV_32_20

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This article aims to describe how the psychological intervention, Problem Management Plus (PM+), impacted the lives of the helpers who delivered this training to their Syrian peers. It tells how they became involved in the project, what they thought worked well, and what challenges they encountered when carrying out PM+. It ends with five brief personal reflections on what it meant to them to be a PM+ helper. Five Syrian men and women working at Stichting Nieuw Thuis in Rotterdam who were trained on how to use PM+ and received supervision from professional trainers contributed to the article. According to the helpers, PM+ was a helpful way of supporting Syrian people living in the Netherlands. Furthermore, it was agreed that learning about PM+ strategies and being part of this programme had a highly positive effect on the helpers’ own lives.

Keywords: personal reflections, psychological intervention, Problem Management Plus (PM+)

How to cite this article:
Basil M, Youssef M, Al-Khatib L, Shebrek A, Akili S, Zakrian M. Personal Reflections on Problem Management Plus: Written by Syrian Helpers at Stichting Nieuw Thuis, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Intervention 2021;19:118-20

How to cite this URL:
Basil M, Youssef M, Al-Khatib L, Shebrek A, Akili S, Zakrian M. Personal Reflections on Problem Management Plus: Written by Syrian Helpers at Stichting Nieuw Thuis, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Intervention [serial online] 2021 [cited 2023 Jun 7];19:118-20. Available from: http://www.interventionjournal.org//text.asp?2021/19/1/118/312718

Address for correspondence: Joëlle Zwaal, Schiekade 101, 3033 BG Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

  Introduction Top

Around the end of 2017 we, the Syrian social workers of Stichting Nieuw Thuis Rotterdam (SNTR),1 got an invitation by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam to join a session explaining new research on a psychological intervention, which aimed to help the Syrian population in The Netherlands. After the clarification of this research project, we immediately became enthusiastic about the idea and we signed up to be a part of the training. In March 2018, we followed 8 days of training which enabled us to take on the role of Problem Management Plus (PM+) helpers. While doing the training, we quickly realised that we had made the right choice and really enjoyed learning about the impressive content of PM+.

Coming from a Syrian background ourselves, we all believed that the Syrian population living in the Netherlands was in need of such an intervention. In the first place this was because of experiencing the terrible situation of the war in Syria. In addition to the war, another factor was leaving family, friends and their homes behind and then people usually went through a long, dangerous trip to Europe. Finding themselves in a totally different country and having to deal with a new society, language, labour market and culture added an extra weight on their shoulders.

During a period when most people had to be on the waiting list for months in order to be seen by a culturally sensitive or Arabic-speaking psychologist or psychiatrist, the PM+ intervention appeared as a helpful way to support Syrian people living in the Netherlands and to teach them how to implement PM+ strategies in their daily life. Around the same time, the SCP (Sociaal Cultureel Planbureau: The Netherlands Institute for Social Research) declared that 42% of the Syrians living in The Netherlands was psychologically “unhealthy”.2 Because of the combination of our Syrian background, the people we met in our day-to-day work, and the research we had heard about, we were extra committed to contribute to this intervention. From May 2018 until the end of 2019 we tried to help as many as possible participants in SNTR’s programme. We listened to them and taught them strategies that allowed them to help themselves cope better with adversity and stress.

Successful Elements and Challenges in Carrying out PM+

According to our team of helpers, PM+ is unique as it takes cultures and other social factors into consideration. As an intervention, it needs to be carried out while taking into consideration the various cultural factors such as religion, relationships between men and women, norms and values. In fact, the reality that Syrian society is a “complex society” formed a challenge for us as helpers, so as we expected, we had to be able to provide acceptance and understanding to participants from various Syrian societies. Luckily, as PM+ team members we are originally from diverse societies and regions in Syria, which helped us during supervision. We could give each other tips and feedback.

What also worked well in delivering PM+ was that we were not trained to give people any advice, but just helped them gain more control of their own situation and to take small steps forward. In this way the other person could take the lead in making steps towards solving problems, which were able to be solved, and simultaneously put aside unsolvable problems. From time to time it was difficult when a person was not really motivated to change something in his or her life, but generally it was magnificent to see people making progress and facing challenges without being held back by previous experiences and unsolvable problems.

Thanks to the professional trainers, we were able to build a deep understanding of the content of the four strategies of PM+ during training and supervision. Moreover, during the weekly (and later bi-weekly) supervision the trainers taught us many important techniques that we definitely needed to use to guide the sessions with participants in the best direction, such as actively listening and normalising. As a team of helpers, we especially agree on one particular thing which is that PM+ has a real touchable positive effect, even in our own lives.

Personal Reflections on Being a PM+ Helper

Lima, one of the helpers, says:

According to my experience, this training and what we went through with people was a special experiment because it had an effect on my personality. I have got a complete awareness that you cannot change the behaviour of someone unless you understand him and adjust your behaviour in dealing with him. I have learned how to normalise a problem. Furthermore, I have gotten the awareness that it is advantageous to accept having problems and understanding them until you see them as a normal issue. Then you can manage your problems and begin solving them with small steps.

Knowing that even the smallest essential or pleasant activity that we do has its own positive effect on our wellbeing. To me one of the most wonderful moments during PM+ was when one of the participants said to me: I am not going to be too sad anymore, nor stressed. I will take care of myself and save my energy for something better. You are right, we can make a better future if we really want to.

Annas, another team member, describes his experience:

It became clear to me that refugees of all classes and ages need people who listen to their problems and concerns, and not only those who help them translating emails and posts from the official authorities.

The PM+ programme has given the opportunity for those who wanted to speak to trusted people who came from the same country and who understand what refugees have experienced, and for it to be all done in a safe place.

I felt that I was delivering a great service to the participants when I listened to them and helped them implement strategies that would help them to manage their problems. Everyone is using the participant’s native language, which is great because it is so important to have clear communication and to be aware of the cultural sensitivity of language by someone who is expressing his feelings and experiences.

Muzkin tells about her experience:

I have learned from this programme to avoid judging others from the first meeting. Although we confront heavy life pressure, we still have to make a space for ourselves and get positive energy through doing some activities that we like or used to enjoy. Sometimes it is a simple activity that we have forgotten to do.

I have also learned that every detail in our lives is important and has its own effect on our psychological situation. Human beings need to be heard naturally, and one of the most important things we learned during the programme was the art of listening and interviewing.

Maral, another helper, indicates:

I found PM+ an effective, important tool to support the Syrian population in the Netherlands in overcoming the ordeal they are experiencing. The idea of training Syrian people to help other Syrians was great, because we can understand the cultural aspects they are dealing with, and because we can put ourselves in their shoes, especially when someone is suffering because of things that happened in the past in the homeland.

Mazen, also a helper, gave his opinion:

PM+ forms a great programme in supporting the Syrian population in the Netherlands, especially because it was done by using Syrian human resources during a situation where cultural factors could not be ignored. I am so impressed by the goal of helping another human through teaching her/him how to help her/himself using the four PM+ strategies.

The thing that I am most thankful for is that I had the ability to experience moments of achieving success with a participant and to see her/his positive reaction after reaching completion in something where they had difficulties. In addition to that, I was able to experience the great effect by implementing the PM+ strategies in my own life. That truly shows how the strategies are actually applicable by everyone, and how they can improve the psychological health of many.

Financial support and sponsorship

No financial support or sponsorship was provided.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

1Stichting Nieuw Thuis Rotterdam (SNTR) aims to give 200 Syrian families a new home in Rotterdam. Empowering these families and helping them participate in Dutch society as soon as possible is the main goal. SNTR offers an integral programme combining rented accommodation with an intensive language course, getting to know the neighbourhood and city, and helping them find suitable (voluntary) work or education. The entire programme is being researched by the Erasmus University.

2Spijkerman, A. en E. Uiters (2020). Psychische gezondheid. In: Syrische statushouders op weg in Nederland: De ontwikkeling van hun positie en leefsituatie. https://digitaal.scp.nl/syrische-statushouders-op-weg-in-nederland/psychische-gezondheid.


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