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Supporting Educators & Counsellors of Students with Refugee Experience

Classroom teachers, EAL/D Teachers, School Executives, Administrators, School Learning Support Officers, Community Liaison Officers and School Counsellors all play a critical role in helping create the welcoming, inclusive and safe environment that fosters the wellbeing and resettlement of students with refugee experiences.

Educators are well-placed to build relationships with students that are built on trust, respect and a belief in the inherent potential of each student. As the psychiatrist Judith Herman points out, these kinds of relationships provide the context in which healing from trauma occurs. They allow the student to rebuild “the basic capacities for trust, autonomy, initiative, competence, identity, and intimacy. Just as these capabilities are originally formed, they must be re‐formed in relationships with other people” (Herman, 1998).

School Counsellors play a central role in identifying students with refugee experiences, assessing their support needs, coordinating the support services at school and, perhaps most importantly, they work hard to build rapport with students and create a welcoming space where students can seek support at challenging times.

At Hints for Healing, we endeavor to support educators and school counsellors by presenting research, stories, interviews and case studies that showcase the many ways in which schools can enhance the wellbeing, education and resettlement of children and young people recovering from refugee trauma.

Image source: STARTTS

In addition to the resources you find here at Hints for Healing, there are several other ways that STARTTS supports Educators and School Counsellors in their work with students with refugee experiences:

  • A suite of Professional Learning modules and tailored training sessions, free of charge for schools. Flexible approaches to delivery, including face to face and virtual presentations, interactive workshops and guest speakers
  • Specialist consultation services to school staff working with students with refugee experience
  • Supporting schools to adopt a whole-school approach to promoting the wellbeing of students with refugee experiences
  • Specialist resources for schools, teachers and counsellors (e.g. Settling In and Jungle Tracks)
  • Collegial networks of educators and school counsellors focused on supporting the wellbeing and education of students with refugee experiences
  • Partnerships with schools on school-led initiatives


Herman, J. L. (1998). Recovery from psychological trauma. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences52(S1), S98-S103.



Whole of School Approaches

At STARTTS we recognise the pivotal role in which the whole school community plays in a students’ recovery from refugee trauma. Schools can facilitate healing and resettlement through their role in developing skills and knowledge, and by providing a safe and stimulating environment in which students can explore justice, identity, human rights, meaning and hopes for the future. This, coupled with their links to parents and carers, along with the broader community, can help foster connections and a sense of belonging.

One way of cultivating such an inclusive and nurturing school environment is through a whole-school approach to supporting students with refugee experiences. The STARTTS School Liaison Team can assist schools over several years as they plan and implement initiatives that support the wellbeing and healing of students and their families.

STARTTS School Liaison Officers can assist schools as they work through the Schools In for Refugees Audit (created by Foundation House, our sister organisation in Victoria) or, for NSW Department of Education Schools, the Refugee Readiness Survey. These audits can help schools prioritise and plan as they systematically embed supportive policies and practices in all elements of school life, including teaching and learning, family engagement, transitions, the school environment and partnerships with external agencies

Professional Learning Videos

Webinar for PETAA (Primary English Teaching Association Australia)

On 10 March 2021, School Liaison Officer Nicole Loehr delivered a webinar for PETAA (Primary English Teacher Association Australia), which PETAA have generously made available to the public. In this webinar, Nicole provides a summary of STARTTS services to NSW school communities and offers some introductory tips for teachers on supporting the recovery of students with refugee experience in the classroom.

Vicarious Trauma and Resilience: Professional Learning Videos

School Liaison Team Leader, Shaun Nemorin, has created a series of professional learning presentations on the topics of Vicarious Trauma, Vicarious Resilience and Self Care. These videos may assist professionals in the helping professions (such as counsellors, educators and social workers), who work with survivors of refugee trauma. The presentations highlight the potential risks, challenges and opportunities for personal growth, when engaging empathically and professionally with people who have experienced trauma.


This introductory video provides an overview of STARTTS services to schools and provides an outline of the contents of the six videos that make up this series. The presentation also outlines why it is important that we recognise the signs of vicarious trauma, both for ourselves and those around us.

Consequences of Trauma

The STARTTS Biopsychosocial Model is used to conceptualise the multi-level impact of trauma on the individual. The presentation also takes a deeper look at the impact of trauma and vicarious trauma on the brain, highlighting difficulties such as impaired concentration, memory, attention and emotional regulation that can arise.

Impacts on the Practitioner

Vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and burnout are defined and presented as occupational hazards that can be managed to reduce their impact on practitioners, their clients and the other people in practitioners’ lives.  Factors such as work environment, professional status, professional recognition and personal life are discussed with respect to the influence they have on vicarious trauma and associated difficulties. The positive impacts of empathically engaging with clients, such as compassion satisfaction, vicarious resilience and post-traumatic growth, are also discussed.


Karpman’s Drama Triangle is used as a model to explain how practitioners can easily get drawn into the role of “rescuer,” “victim,” or “persecutor” if professional boundaries with clients/students are poorly managed. It is also shown how the Karpman model can be used to identify when boundaries have been crossed by practitioners or when transference (feeling, desires or expectations being projected onto the practitioner by the client/student) or countertransference (feelings, desires or expectations projected onto the client/student by the practitioner) may be occurring. Strategies for exiting the drama triangle are also highlighted. Finally, a continuum of over-involvement to under-involvement is discussed as an aid for identifying current dynamics between practitioner and client/student and for recognising the optimal level of engagement for practitioner and client/student wellbeing.

Resilience and Post-Traumatic Growth

The positive transformations that can emerge out of empathic and professional engagement with survivors of traumatic events are discussed. The presenter highlights how greater awareness of post-traumatic growth and vicarious resilience can increase the likelihood of practitioners benefiting from these phenomena. Conditions that promote opportunities for emotional resilience are also examined.

Self Care and Seeking Support

Self-compassion is presented as a helpful foundational framework for nurturing good self-care. John Arden’s SEEDS model is then discussed in detail and recommended as a model for taking stock of the precursors for good mental and physical health for both clients/students and the practitioners. The importance of reaching out and seeking support in both professional and private domains is emphasised as a critical self-care skill for professionals in the helping professions.

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