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Transcript of Interview with Tom Holmes by Outlook

Your full title/credentials:

Tom Holmes, MSW, PhD


Where are you professor emeritus?

Associate Professor Emeritus, Western Michigan University, College of Health and Human Services


Where do you live?

I currently live in Kalamazoo, Michigan.


How long have you been a professor and therapist?


I taught for 20 years at WMU, 1986-2007.  Since 2007 I have been offering training internationally on the integration of IFS and spirituality. Most of my training is in Germany, but I have also offered workshops in the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania and Korea in addition to my work in Jordan. I have been practicing as a therapist since 1976.I received my training in IFS from Dick at IJR in 1988-89


When did you begin your work with Syrian refugees and what inspired you? How long will you remain engaged there? Can you share what you do there?


I began my work with therapists working with Syrian refugees in the fall of 2016.I became interested in services to refugees while I was working in Germany. Between 2015 and 2019 Germany took in more than 1,600,000 refugees with the largest group being Syrian refugees. A number of my trainees were working with refugees, and I was able to gain some understanding of their needs. I first offered self-care workshops for free to professionals and volunteers working with refugees because burnout was already an issue. I find IFS integrated with spirituality is very effective in burnout prevention work.


In 2016 a colleague was organizing a conference in Jordan on healing community trauma. I became interested in developing a mental health model more harmonious with the Islamic cultures so that we could better serve the Syrian refugees who were from the Islamic culture. I saw this conference as an opportunity to begin to establish links with mental health professionals in Jordan with whom I might enter into this project.


I felt I had a good background for this work since for many years I have studied a wide range of spiritual traditions and I knew that in the Sufi tradition they had a view of the personality with similarities to IFS.I began to look for Islamic psychology that would be appropriate for the Syrian refugees who were largely moderately conservative Sunni. I found an Islamic scholar from the 11th century, Al Ghazali, who was highly respected also in the Sunni community and who articulated a view of the personality which fit perfectly with IFS.I presented my integration of this psychology with IFS at the conference and it was very well received. This lead to my being invited to work with therapists at the Center for Victims of Torture in Amman, Jordan and with social work students at Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan in the spring of 2017.


Much of my initial work in Jordan was introducing people to IFS and the integration of this work with the Islamic psychology. Since that time my work as expanded and is now largely focused on the Mental Health Unit of the International Medical Corp. (IMC) They are one of the important mental health service providers to the refugees in Jordan. There are 1.4 million Syrian refugees in Jordan and there are altogether more than 4 million refugees in Jordan. Jordan’s population total is around10 million.


This year I offered IFS as a psychoeducational model to IMC mental health case workers, offered a day of self-care/burnout prevention for other IMC staff, much of which was the parts work. I have also begun a training in IFS integrated with the Islamic psychology for 16 psychologists working for IMC. This training will continue at least through fall and spring of next year.


This year I also offered a lecture with the Islamic studies program at Yarmouk University where I am collaborating with a professor on the integration of IFS and the Islamic psychology from a more academic perspective. The lecture was open to the public and over 200 faculty and students attended, showing the interest in this approach.


I am also working with several professors at Yarmouk University to translate my “Parts Work” book into Arabic. This book has been translated into German, Korean and Italian already. We are now piloting a translation of the first three chapters as a step in getting an effective translation. By presenting the IFS model using a power point with the illustrations from my Parts Work book, I have found that in 45 minutes people really grasp what the IFS model is all about, even in cultures as varied as Korea and Jordan. The model is truly universal.


As part of my work with the translations professor, we are also planning to develop a model for using IFS as a way to reduce secondary trauma in translators, some of whom will most certainly get jobs in NGO’s where they are likely to be translating stories from the war trauma. New research shows that 20% of translators working with refugees show significant PTSD symptoms and many others display burnout symptoms.


An additional project is that I am working with artists who are refugees in the oldest refugee camp Zataari, near the Syrian border. These artists are helping me to create illustrations which are more reflective of the experiences and appearance of people from this region. These images will be used in the translation of the Parts Work book as well as in a supplemental edition of the the “Inneractive Cards” design for work in the region. They will also be used in a new book I am working on with psychologists in Jordan that will integrate IFS and the Islamic psychology. My trainees in Germany donated funds to support my work and I have used these funds to buy art supplies for the artists in the Zaatari Camp who are doing this work.


What can you share about your training for German therapists? Who are they? How many? Is it a full IFS training or specialized?


I am not sure if you want to report most of this because of room in the article, but I will answer the questions:


I have been offering training in Europe for more than 20 years, twice a year. My training in Germany specializes in the integration of IFS and spirituality. Most of the therapists in the training have many years of experience as therapists and are looking to add spirituality integrated with IFS principles and skills to their practice. I usually run three, two years trainings at a time in different locations in Germany with about 20 participants each. I follow up with on-going advanced training groups.


How are both therapists and recipients/clients responding to IFS?


In Germany I have more people wanting to take my training than I can offer it to, especially now that I am offering the work in Jordan I have had to reduce my time. Twice a year I travel to Germany for 6 weeks to offer training and the income from these workshops gives me enough income that I can comfortably pay for my own expenses and volunteer my services in Jordan.

The therapists in Jordan have been very enthusiastic about the integrative model. One of the most useful tools that the therapists can readily use are the “InnerActive Cards” created by the illustrator of our book, Sharon Eckstein. She donated sets of cards for me to give to the therapists and they report readily having very positive results in bringing a parts work perspective to their work, even though their therapeutic interventions remain what they were trained in, since I have only just now started a training in the therapeutic methods themselves.


Where are the recipients? Jordan, Syria, elsewhere?

Right now, my work focuses on refugees in Jordan, as well as helping mental health professionals in Germany who are working with their Syrian, Iraqi Afghan refugees.


Would you have any high-resolution images we could use? Either the group of therapists being trained, refugees (thinking anonymous group image), or others (perhaps yourself)?


I have inserted two pictures. The second is of the artists in the camp showing some of their work. The women not comfortable with the image being used publicly have covered their faces with their pictures so it is ok to use this picture. The first picture is one of my training groups and I would need to clear its use if you would like to use it publicly and I believe permission would be given.

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