Understanding the HEAL experience – a student’s journey

This case study is a composite of a student’s experience at HEAL programs across all our school-based services.

Malisa is a newly arrived refugee and has been referred to HEAL through her high school.

At her first session, Malisa and her therapist complete the Welcome Booklet, a screening tool designed by HEAL therapists Jane Griffin and Bethany Mahadeo to collect important information in a friendly way. The screening interview helps the therapist and Malisa decide on the most appropriate approach to the sessions. A mental health check assesses Malisa around symptomology including distress, physical health, sleep hygiene, the family and home situation and how she is functioning at school. Malisa has adequate spoken English, so today’s screening does not require an interpreter – though other students might.

Through the screening interview, therapists learn that Malisa is in Australia as an unaccompanied minor. She is housed and cared for by a welfare agency. She fled danger in her country during civil unrest and in the chaos of leaving, she lost track of her family. She is very sad about being separated from her family and becomes tearful during the interview. She feels relieved to be in a safe country but anxious about living with strangers. Malisa speaks four languages. She wants to be a doctor here in Australia one day. She loves playing soccer.

Malisa is booked in to see a HEAL therapist in a 1:1 session, once a week. Initially, Malisa’s practical concerns like dental appointments or help with joining sport teams are the focus of the sessions. As the relationship and trust builds with her therapist, Malisa has the opportunity to explore feelings about her new circumstances. Her therapist shows Malisa art methods that celebrate strengths and build hope for the future. There is serious talk, but also play. Sand-play tray directives offer Malisa the chance to celebrate relationships and understand feelings. Malisa is taught deep breathing and meditation methods to enhance her emotional regulation and provide her with tools for resiliency into the future. If contact with Malisa’s home or caseworker is needed, this is done directly or through the appropriate school staff like the Guidance Officer.

Malisa moves quickly through therapy; she is a bright girl who is highly motivated to learn and is quick to understand how she can manage her feelings. She is well settled and has successful relationships in the group home where she lives. Her school reports are positive. After about 6-months, Malisa no longer requires 1:1 sessions but she can continue to access HEAL resources and school wellbeing initiatives supported by HEAL staff. Malisa knows she can contact her HEAL therapist if she has any future questions or support needs.

To contact HEAL about services available in schools, email heal@qpastt.org.au