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How a Chesterfield nonprofit is training crisis counselors in Ukraine

Kristen Uroda

Disasters result in destruction — whether they're natural events such as earthquakes or manmade devastation from war — and in its wake, people have immediate needs: shelter, food and first aid. But as the dust settles and physical wounds heal, people are left to pick up the pieces of their own selves. Surviving a crisis results in injuries that can only be treated by specialized counseling.

Miya Norfleet
St. Louis Public Radio
Suzanne Galvin is an attorney at Thompson Coburn and a volunteer crisis counselor.

St. Louis resident and volunteer crisis counselor Suzanne Galvin has witnessed this firsthand. She and her husband, John Galvin, recently traveled to Zory, Poland, and Lviv, Ukraine, to provide crisis counseling training to students, alumni and instructors at Ukraine Baptist Theological Seminary in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“We were teaching some of the women and children in Poland what normal reaction to trauma is,” she said. “It's OK if you lose your car keys or can't remember your phone number — that's a normal reaction to an abnormal event. And as we were explaining things that are normal reactions, the translator got tears in her eyes and turned and looked at us and said, ‘I am so thankful I'm normal.’”

For the past 15 years, the Galvins, who are lawyers at Thompson Coburn in St. Louis, have traveled nationally and internationally to volunteer as crisis counselors. Initially inspired by the destruction Hurricane Katrina left behind, the couple traveled to Asheville, North Carolina, to be trained by the Federal Emergency Management Agency on how to help people experiencing crisis process their trauma.

Galvin told St. Louis on the Air that she and her husband felt that their training could be helpful to Ukrainian refugees, so they got involved through the Ukrainian Partnership Foundation, based in Chesterfield, Missouri. When they were invited to join the crisis counseling team going overseas last April, Galvin said, “We said, ‘Yes.’”

Suzanne Galvin
Suzanne Galvin (bottom row, fourth from the left) poses with students who completed crisis counseling training at the Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary in Lviv.

Galvin’s faith plays an important role in her motivation to provide volunteer crisis counseling, and working with the Ukraine Baptist Theological Seminary provided the opportunity to work with like-minded Protestants — a religious minority in Ukraine. Her religious background also did not affect her offer to help anyone who needed it. “Not everybody we meet with is necessarily a Christian,” she said, “but they welcome the prayer and the authenticity that it is offered in helping someone in their time of need.”

Being an attorney has helped Galvin be a better crisis counselor. She said one of the first things trainees learn is how to listen. “As we take depositions, we listen to what the witness says, and we understand how that impacts the case. It’s very similar when we are counseling a victim of trauma. You listen to what they have experienced and what is really still underlying their concerns.”

To hear more about Suzanne Galvin’s time in Ukraine and Poland, and what not to say when comforting someone in crisis, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

How a Chesterfield nonprofit is training crisis counselors in Ukraine

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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