Helping the Helpers: A QCEA project to support volunteers who work with refugees

In the refugee camps in Calais, Lesbos, Lampedusa and elsewhere, much of the work is being done by volunteers. Care for migrants and refugees often becomes more and more stressful over time. Long term volunteers frequently experience symptoms of secondary or vicarious trauma when working with people exposed to violence and exploitation. Common symptoms of vicarious trauma include depression, isolation, emotional withdrawal, difficulties with sleep and problems with concentration. Untreated, it can lead to depression, isolation and suicide. (For more information about vicarious or secondary trauma, see our interview with Leyla Welkin in the Nov-Dec 2016 issue of QCEA Newsletter Around Europe.)

Helping the Helpers is a project which will address the needs of long term volunteers who serve refugees and migrants, with a view to enabling them to avoid the long term effects of vicarious and secondary trauma.

Participants will be volunteers working with migrants around Europe. Many of these volunteers are young people who have devoted their time without pay to helping refugees and migrants. The aim of the project is to give participants skills that will enable them not only to address their own trauma but also to avoid re-traumatisation. A second aspect of the programme is that it is hoped that participants will go on to train others to address their trauma, establishing a network of trained individuals who can support each other in a cascading network of ongoing service.

It is important to note that this is not a project to train lay therapists. Rather it is a support project designed to develop psychosocial skills centred on self care and mutual support.

The organisers of the project are qualified psychotherapists who are trained in trauma treatment. They will meet face-to-face with the participants three times over approximately one year for intensive 5-day sessions. Between these meetings, participants will work remotely with the organisers and each other to continue the training.

In its pilot phase, Helping the Helpers will work with 12 volunteers. Following the pilot, the project will be evaluated and a decision made whether to continue by expanding the network, creating a new group or bringing new participants into the existing group.

Organisers of Helping the Helpers are all donating their time to develop and deliver this project. To make the training affordable for participants who work without pay, there will be no course fee charged. All accommodation and travel costs will be paid. This means that the cost of organising the project will be relatively high. We are currently looking for funding for the programme.

Support this work

  • You can help by donating to the project or by sponsoring a participant. To donate, visit Please mention Helping the Helpers.
  • For information about how you can sponsor a participant write to
  • If you can’t help financially but would like to keep in touch with the project, please write and we’ll add you to our newsletter list.