20-21/02/2014 – beginnings and endings


Over the last two days, we have been welcoming in the latest cohort of trainee clinical psychologists for the whole of Sri Lanka. We have had the privilege to meet the eight new students starting the MPhil in Clinical Psychology at the University of Colombo, and have delivered introductory teaching on: the role of Clinical Psychology; clinical skills (verbal and non-verbal); ethical and professional practice; and assessment. 

Seeing the new trainees made us reflect on our own start of the DClinPsy just over three years ago – it’s hard to believe that training went so quickly. We wish the new cohort all the best over the next two years and hope that Samutthana can continue to support their development.

As one journey starts, another one ends. Jennie did her last day of teaching today and is now officially on holiday! She will miss everyone at Samutthana and has had an incredible experience here in Sri Lanka that has helped her feel much better-prepared for returning to work in London this March. Thank you and good luck to all the other Samutthana volunteers. 


19/02/2014 – Tree of Life at Samutthana


We had a lovely, relaxed Tree of Life session this morning at Samutthana. Volunteers, counsellors and one guest who came along for the ride (shout out to Louise’s dad!), spent the morning learning and practicing this narrative therapeutic technique, and discussing how it might be used in various contexts in Sri Lanka. It allowed us to reflect on our clients’ experiences and gave us a chance to consider our own narratives and where we ‘are’ currently in our own lives.

The rest of the day was spent prepping for two days of teaching at the University of Colombo. Tomorrow we’ll be welcoming the latest cohort of future clinical psychologists onto the MPhil in Clinical Psychology. We can remember how we felt almost four years ago, during our own beginnings at Royal Holloway – our thoughts are with the apprehensive students tonight!

Today also marked my (Jennie’s) last day at the Samutthana office. I cannot say thank you enough to the team, Dushy, Vino, Vijita, Anne and Duminda, and will miss you all greatly.

18/02/2014 – let’s talk about sex at Samutthana


The team enjoying drinks on Kaanan's last night in Sri Lanka

The team enjoying drinks on Kaanan’s last night in Sri Lanka


Doing the octopus as an energiser

Doing the octopus as an energiser


We were quite nervous about delivering this workshop for several reasons: we had a lot of information to cover; we were speaking about highly culturally sensitive topics; previous talks about LGBT rights at Samutthana had been met with some criticism; and it was a potentially ‘political’ move to deliver the training. However, we felt enormously privileged to be encouraged and welcomed to discuss this topic, and we hope that in our efforts to make Samutthana a gay-affirmative service, we have introduced a different and less-stigmatising way of thinking about marginalised groups. It was also a pleasure to work with people who are already challenging stigma and providing excellent services to Sri Lankan communities despite a number of cultural and legal barriers.

We felt the day was a success in opening a new topic for discussion and hope that some of the conversations started continue. We felt the day was particularly beneficial in helping organisations to liaise with one another and in facilitating new relationships between services. We’ll never forget one Buddhist monk weighing in on the nature-nurture debate by asking, “what about gay ducks and grizzly bears?”…

After the workshop we headed out for beers and food to wish Kaanan well on her journey back to the UK. We had a great night but it’s always hard to lose a member of the Samutthana team. We look forward to catching up back in London.

17/02/2014 – prepped for sex

Today was a busy day. We had a staff meeting, conducted supervision and prepared three talks for tomorrow’s first-ever symposium at Samutthana, the topic of which will “titillate Colombo” (to quote Dushy). We’ll be delivering two talks: one on sexual minority identity and mental health; and the other on living with HIV. We’ll also be providing a longer workshop on talking about sex, which we hope will be helpful to the many organisations and professionals who have told us they struggle to address this topic with the clients they work with.

We’re excited to see what tomorrow brings!


13/02/2014 – managing challenging behaviour with Emerge








We had our first experience of facilitating a workshop run by our colleagues today. We had the privilege of sitting back and watching Rebecca Rollo, the psychiatric nurse in our team, give an expert presentation on managing challenging and risky behaviours. It was up to us to get the crowd dancing and energised whilst poor Rebecca ended up delivering a full day’s presentation (instead of the 2 hours she had planned!).

As ever, it was a humbling experience working with team Emerge who put their hearts and souls into supporting children who have survived sexual abuse and are living in probation homes. We were lucky enough to be able to buy some of the jewellery made by the girls – a lovely reminder of the hope Emerge brings to the girls they work with. The team asked us to take a photo wearing the jewellery so that they could show the girls where their hard work goes (see us ‘modelling’ our purchases above!). If you would like to buy jewellery made by the girls, please visit here: http://www.artfire.com/ext/shop/studio/emergeglobal 

We ended the day with team drinks watching the sunset over the ocean from Mount Lavinia Hotel – there are worst ways to end a hard week…and now for three very well-deserved days off!


12/02/2014 – facilitating understanding with the FRC






Today we enjoyed leading a workshop on how to assess and formulate from a psychological perspective, which we delivered to counsellors and field officers working with the Family Rehabilitation Centre (FRC) in the northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka. We were so impressed by the work of the FRC staff – almost as impressed as we were by their dance moves (you had to be there)!

The FRC faces many challenges in its work, one of which is negotiating the overlaps between the roles of the different members of its team. In light of this, we were also invited to lead a group discussion between field officers and counsellors on the challenges they face in working together and the strategies they use to manage them. It was great experience for us to be able to lead a consultation of this kind and we hope that the discussions we started can be continued and lead to positive changes in the organisation.

We were both struck by the difficult conditions in which the FRC has to operate and the complexity of the cases that they manage. It was humbling to hear stories of resilience from the workers, all of whom lived through the civil war in the regions which were worst affected. In spite of their own experiences and losses, the workers continue to support people in coming to terms with the impact of the war and are dedicated to improving psychosocial support for those living in some of the most deprived and devastated areas of the country.  


11/02/2014 – talking about sex in Vavuniya


We had another opportunity to discuss our favourite topic today in a workshop on talking about sex, with a multi-disciplinary mental health team working in Vavuniya.

It never gets any less nerve-wracking pointing to giant diagrams of genitalia and asking people (through a translator) to shout out the names of the parts. However, it was also really rewarding to have the opportunity to teach on a topic we feel passionate about which many people have never had the chance to talk about before let alone receive training on. We certainly left feeling that our training would be put to good use – we’d advise you to buy shares in lubrication products in Sri Lanka ASAP…

Today’s teaching was made all the more interesting by the context of teaching in Vavuniya’s General District Hospital. Vavuniya served as the border town between the north and south of Sri Lanka during the civil war. The hospital served as a key medical facility for internally displaced people towards the later years of the war; we heard many distressing stories about this period and how the healthcare professionals coped in extremely difficult times. All in all, another rewarding, fascinating but hard-hitting day – just another day in Sri Lanka then!

10/02/2014 – family therapy at Kilinochchi District General Hospital



Today we did a day’s workshop on ‘working with families’ (a basic introduction to systemic therapy) with counsellors working in the north of Sri Lanka. The day was enjoyable and productive and we heard that many of the techniques we practiced were both new and useful to the group. We were struck by the types of problem families are experiencing in the north as a result of the war; we heard of families coping with disappearances and of the breakdown and fragmentation of family units. It was inspiring to see counsellors working against all odds, with so little support and so little training and in such a devastated area. Here the war is present in all the difficulties the counsellors are faced with, and we felt privileged to work with those intervening directly with the psychological effects of 30 years of war.

07/02/2014 – heading North



The day before had been a mad dash to complete four presentations for talks we are giving next week. It was a LONG day but we got there and treated ourselves with an episode of Mad Men (or two) before attempting to get an early night for a very unwelcome 5am start the next day.

We managed the early start and caught the 6:50 train to Kilinochchi. The train journey was lovely and went much faster than anticipated having spent the first 3 hours snoozing. After a quick lunch in Kilinochchi we then took a bus to Jaffna which we explored over the weekend.

Jaffna is beautiful; white beaches, coconut trees and aquamarine water as far as you can see. We’re so glad to have spent time here and have been greeted warmly by everyone we’ve met. However, it has also been sobering. Field upon field remains contaminated by landmines, skull and crossbones mine warnings peppering the countryside. The islands appear deserted, dotted with houses destroyed by the civil war. And those buildings still standing are littered with bullet holes – a painful reminder of a war that only ended in 2009.

05/02/2014 – meetings, meetings, meetings

Yesterday we enjoyed a lovely buffet lunch courtesy of SLUKS (the Sri-Lanka UK Society) in order to celebrate Independence Day. We were spoilt rotten by Dushy and the committee, including getting free use of the facilities at the amazing Lighthouse Hotel in Galle. 

Today it was back to work with a series of meetings from 9-3. At present, there are four clinical psychologists, one assistant psychologist and one mental health nurse volunteering at Samutthana – it has never been busier – and so we grabbed the opportunity to think about how we work as a charity and how our service could be improved. 

We then had a fruitful discussion with Dr. Ganesan, a psychiatrist working in Sri Lanka, to see how we might work together to promote service user empowerment within Sri Lanka. We came up with lots of ideas from hosting an evening at Samutthana in which we invite service users to share their experiences to including service users in as much of the MPhil teaching as possible. Dr. Ganesan is keen to support us in this mission and we’re excited to collaborate with him from hereon.

Lastly, we managed to do a handover with our latest volunteer, Dr. Jonathan Buhagiar, who arrived in Colombo on Saturday and is raring to go. He’ll be here for 6 months and is a welcome addition to the team. We must also mention Dr. Kaanan Bhavsar, who arrived on Sunday and is here for 2 weeks. Kaanan is a member of the Executive Committee at the UKSLTG and is therefore a vital link for us here in Sri Lanka – she’s also volunteered with Samutthana 3 times now and is therefore a wealth of knowledge and experience. It’s an exciting time to be at Samutthana!