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H800 Teaching Mongolian Students Trauma Counselling

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Nicolina Joubert
31 March 2014


I was asked to present a course on counseling for a group of Mongolian students. One of the topics included in the course was Trauma Counselling. I designed a one workshop for teaching this topic. The design included theoretical and practical components. I worked with an interpreter as most of the students rated poorly on an English proficiency test that I used to evaluate their English language skills.



The workshop was presented in Ulaanbaatar in a venue equipped with a data projector, screen, common white board, tables and chairs. The student group included both genders and the ages ranged from 22 to 42 years.  Students had received the PowerPoint presentation, which was translated in Mongolian, in a handout format. They also had their own notepaper to take additional notes. The venue was spacious enough to allow for brief physical exercises, designed to stimulate the brain, after each break.


Tea, coffee and sandwiches were provided at the start of the workshop and during tea times. A full lunch was provided. My impression was that eating and drinking form part of this learning context and during break times a lot of discussion took place. Most students were from Ulaanbaatar (the capital city) but a number of students came from the countryside. Most students are involved with caring for others or providing counseling services.


The workshop was advertised and organized by the leader of a Family Counselling Centre in Ulaanbaatar with the intention to equip counselors in the area of trauma counseling. The prevalence of alcoholism, sexual abuse and domestic violence is fairly high leaving family members suffering from traumatic stress.  The need for training in this area is pronounced. 


The challenge was to a) increase the counselors understanding of traumatic stress, b) identity symptoms of traumatic stress, c) educate families about the impact of trauma, d) build resilience and e) institute preventive measures in a society.


What were you trying to achieve? What was your measure of success?

The task was to explain to the counseling students how trauma is defined, what the long-term impact of trauma is on individuals and society and how to do trauma debriefing.  I tried to achieve increased understanding for traumatic stress and the impact it has on own psyche and on society. I further aimed at teaching the students some basic trauma debriefing skills. I incorporated a practical application in terms of an own personal experience to measure the success. Students were asked to write down and reflect on a personal traumatic experience. They were asked to choose an event they were prepared to analyze and discuss with the rest of the group. Structured guidelines were provided for this process.

Their ability to apply the theoretical knowledge to their own experience, reflect on the impact it has on them and to share their insights with others served as an indicator for the level of success I achieved in terms of the learning outcomes.


List the actions you took in chronological order, note their effects – expected and unexpected. Highlight any obstacles you encountered, and explain how you tried to overcome them.

The first action was to define and discuss the concept or trauma. I then ask students to write down an incidence from their own life that they view as traumatic. I qualify this requested by stating that it has to be an incidence that they are prepared to discuss with the group. The next step was to explain the impact of trauma on people and societies and to explain the trauma process (how people deal with trauma). The next action was for students to apply the criteria discussed to analyze their own incidence and to evaluate the impact it had on them. Once this was done students were given the opportunity to share their stories. This was followed by a discussion of what they had learned.

Unexpected obstacles and challenges:

The first challenging factor proved to be the language barrier. I used technical vocabulary with which my interpreter wasn’t familiar or for which words or terms in Mongolian don’t exist. The result was we all got a bit lost in translation.

Another challenge was the practical examples I used to illustrate the impact and consequences of trauma on people.  Most of my examples were from my South African background and after a while I realized that the examples aren’t making sense for the students. In the one example I related a story about land grab in Zimbabwe and how a white farmer lost his farm through intimidation and threats by the war veterans claiming the farm. This incidence was researched and used in trauma literature as an example of how this type of trauma was processed. 

The example was meaningless to the students as a) they know very little about Africa, especially the history and politics of Zimbabwe and don’t understand references to concepts such as  “land grab” and “war veterans claiming farms”.  These events were not known in Mongolia.  I decided to make a drawing on the common white board to illustrate and clarify my example.  The drawing depicted a farm with an electrical fence, war veterans camping outside the fence, a big farmhouse for the owner and his family and smaller houses for the workers inside the fence. Providing a visual representation of the context of the event helped the students to comprehend the nature and consequences of this traumatic event.


List the expected and unexpected outcomes of your actions. To what degree did you meet your objectives? What additional outcomes did you engender? Provide evidence to back your claims.

The expected outcomes reported back by the students were their increased understanding of their own traumatic experience and how it has affected their lives as well as their ability to identify traumatic stress specific to Mongolia.  The unexpected outcomes were the level of commitment to engage with traumatized people to counsel and support them. The group was prepared to take up social responsibility where possible. One idea was to form a support group for victims of domestic violence.  I met the objective of increasing their understanding for their own context. I feel that the objective to connect them to other cultural groups and their trauma wasn’t fully achieved.


Reflect on your experience. What transferable insights did you gain?

Reflecting on my own experience I learned a number of things: a) never assume knowledge and insight is in place before evaluating the learning context; knowledge and experience that I am very familiar with could be very foreign to other cultural groups; accurate translation is of the utmost importance; the experiences and perceptions of another cultural group is rich and as I connect with this I learn as much as they do.


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