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Description: Think about what sports of factors might be involved in how refugees cope with distress once they have arrived in a relatively safe place and are trying to get on with their lives. Certainly the potentially horrific stressful events they endured in their original homes and in their flight towards safety could be important factors in their ability to adjust in a new (safer) setting. However, those providing counseling and therapy to refugees are telling us that a sole focus on previous traumatic events is not sufficient to help refugees find ways to cope and thrive. Think about what else might be involved and think about the implications of those other factors for what therapy plans might need to look like or involve if refugee well-being is to improve.

Source: What Are the Roots of Distress Among Refugees? Kenneth E. Miller, Psychology Today.

Date: August 16, 2017


Links:  Article Link —

In developmental psychology (my main area of work) we have figured out that single life events (bad or good) by themselves have little impact upon developmental outcomes. To have long term impact something from that event must be carried forward through development either by the developing individual or by their environment if downstream developmental outcomes are to be effected. Parent mistakes need not be a big deal but ongoing parental incompetence or ongoing parental aggressiveness or a defensive attachment model within the developing child are all things that follow children along their developmental pathways and continue to nudge them towards negative or atypical developmental outcomes.  The points in the article linked below on the impact of current and ongoing stressors on the mental health and well-being of refugees essentially makes the same point. Related to this is the recent observation that resilience, reflected in the fact that some people cope and even thrive in the face of life challenges, is not an individual difference variable (something that is part of individual character or personality) but a contextual variable lining personal traits and skills with social and community variables and together helping people cope and thrive. Given the state of the world it is critically important for us to better understand the situations and the coping and resilience supports needed by refugees.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Do past traumatic life events have impacts upon current adjustment and mental health?
  2. What other factors are involved in the adjustment and mental health of refugees?
  3. Beyond the implications of the finding in the linked article for individual refugee therapy what are some implications for how we process and manage refugee claimants at local and national levels?

References (Read Further):

Miller, K. E., & Garbarino, J. (2016). War torn: stories of courage, love, and resilience. Larson Publications.

Miller, K. E., & Rasco, L. M. (2004). An ecological framework for addressing the mental health needs of refugee communities. The mental health of refugees: Ecological approaches to healing and adaptation, 1-64.,_Ph.D./CV_files/Mental%20Health%20of%20Civilians%20Displaced%20by%20Armed%20Conflict_1.pdf

Betancourt, T. S., & Khan, K. T. (2008). The mental health of children affected by armed conflict: protective processes and pathways to resilience. International review of psychiatry, 20(3), 317-328.

Masten, A. S. (2001). Ordinary magic: Resilience processes in development. American psychologist, 56(3), 227.