Lee Duffield

Edited by Lee Duffield
Freedom and Truth

Plans to implement trauma counselling training into curriculum at DWU

Divine Word University Madang could be one of the first universities in PNG to incorporate counseling for traums victims into their curriculum

Divine Word University Madang could be one of the first universities in PNG to incorporate counselling for trauma victims into their curriculum.

Divine Word University (DWU) Madang is running a training program to prepare volunteers in PNG communities to help others who require counselling — a scheme intended to fill a great need throughout the country.

A pilot for the program was run during five days last month  (22-26.6.09) engaging people from non-government organisations such as AusAid and HIV prevention groups.

Most are social workers and others who already have some kind of counselling training, psychiatric nurses from hospitals or correctional facilities in Madang; but the plan is to let them pass on their counselling skills to more volunteers.

The program is run by an Austrian psychologist Margit Ganster, who works closely with two organisations, Horizon 3000 and the The Austrian Organisation for Development, which operate in the “capacity building” field for local development agencies.

Part of her project is to develop counselling programs to deal with domestic and sexual violence, which is widespread in PNG.

“There is not enough time to wait until there are enough professional therapists in PNG because people are really suffering. I am passionate about people using  specific techniques and teaching one other to help victims of violence,” said Dr Ganster.

“I want to include and implement these approaches into the university’s curriculum  … It is the first training we are doing now but I think we will find some things need to be adapted to an appropriate cultural context for people in PNG.

“It’s one week of training for each participant …  and later  I will take people for another week to repeat the content and translate the sessions into Tok-Pisin. This way the people will get the sense of what we are talking about; they must find their own way of understanding and communicating.”


The training specialises in traditional eastern medicine and techniques such as energy and memory healing work; Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and Tapas Acupressure Technique (TAT), which involve tapping meridians, heart cardiac coherence, brain synchronisation, breathing exercises and practical work.

The chief goal is to train 120 counsellors to assist victims of violence in Madang, Goroka and Port Moresby.

The advantage of these techniques is that any one can learn them; you do not have to be a trained counsellor or professional.

“There is no standardised curriculum for counsellors training in PNG, where also there are very few psychiatrists, and in rural areas there is nothing. I have seen there is a big need for counselling and for the victims of violence to get appropriate support”, Dr Ganster said.

“Already we have had 70 participants in Madang alone. What we teach in this course includes special techniques people can use to support victims of violence to learn to manage their inner stress and overcome traumatic experiences.”

“Heart Math technique is practiced to show people they can balance their heartbeats through breathing exercises and monitoring their heart … We know that to process traumatic experiences it is necessary to bring the brain into balance; and we do that by bilateral stimulation, which uses Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) — one of the most researched techniques in treating post-traumatic stress.”


“Combining ‘brain synchronisation’ with other techniques helps people to keep memory and disturbance levels very low. If people experience an event it can disturb them for their whole life even if it were seven years before. This memory can be triggered by any stimulus and because of the way memories are saved the person feels as if it has happened again — because the memory does not have any sense of time.”

She says traumatised people tend to dissociate their harmful memories, and the program aims to help teach future counsellors to assist clients to connect with painful memories, process them and integrate traumatic events into their awareness without the harmful effects.


Margaret Joseph is a resident of Madang and volunteers at Tingim Laif an organisation supported by the Burnet Institute at Monash University Melbourne – and has joined the program.

Ms Joseph specialises in home base care and behavioural in high risk areas, such as mining camps and transport routes where HIV/AIDS, drugs and alcohol are big problems.

She is one of only three trauma counsellors who work for Tingim Laif in these areas and is also involved in a program called Gender and HIV Aids which provides counseling, care, support and education of prevention and contraction of HIV.

“I approach people on the streets if I feel they need help, or sometimes they will seek me out”, she told Sub-tropic.

“In many cases a family member will approach me with a relative who is suffering from drug and alcohol related problems. We aim to provide support to people of all ages but we mainly target young people. What I have learnt in the past few days will be information and techniques I can teach other volunteers and community members.”