Why is it difficult for refugees to get help for trauma & PTSD?


Click here to read Part 1 of this series that describes the pervasiveness and accompanying symptoms of unresolved trauma for refugees. Part 2, below, outlines some of the challenges faced by refugees who need help in order to come to terms with the many terrifying experiences in their life histories. Part 3 addresses the necessity of using body-centered methods for trauma recovery and why they are particularly well-suited for working with refugee populations.

Resolving past traumas isn’t easy for anyone. Often, without effective intervention, symptoms persist over the long-term and can be incredibly debilitating.

Yet, for many refugees, cultural taboos impede seeking help.

Unless trauma is well-understood and normalized, it may feel like a sign of weakness to not just ‘handle it’ as others seem to be able to do. For some, ‘mental health services’ equate to being what a ‘crazy person’ would need. Symptoms can contribute to feelings of shame, feeling that something is ‘wrong’, yet not knowing exactly what it is, and feeling too embarrassed to talk about it.

Being part of a community-oriented culture can be helpful in many ways. Its tendency to promote togetherness can create an environment of support. Shared experiences aid a sense of belonging.  Yet, if most seem resilient, and don’t speak directly about PTSD symptoms, it can actually make it harder to seek help for those in the community that don’t genuinely feel ‘okay’.

Surviving is more than just staying alive;
surviving is learning how to live again.

 – Carl Wilkens, the only U.S. citizen to remain during the Rwandan genocide

The stigma associated with seeking help isn’t the only obstacle.

The typical Western approach, individual psychotherapy sessions, is often cost-prohibitive and may not be culturally well-attuned to refugee needs. While some might be happy with an individual session, able to speak privately and away from the others they are close to, frequently that is not the case. These tend to be community-wide difficulties and many feel more comfortable in the sense of familiarity, i.e. in a group.

What can we do to help?

Our plan is to create a Trauma Recovery Program for Refugees that changes the paradigm of what recovery opportunities for refugees looks like.

Yet, before we can do that, we need help from the local refugee leaders.

Ultimately these leaders are the ones who will be doing the outreach in the refugee community, encouraging participation in our trauma recovery program. That is the only way we can get beyond the cultural taboos and lack of understanding of PTSD. We need the refugee leaders to vouch for us and the benefits of our program. The only way they will be able to do that is if they are well-informed about trauma and have had a firsthand experience of what it will be like to participate in the program.

Read more about Phase 2 of Trauma Recovery for Refugees – Educating Refugee Leaders about Trauma, PTSD and Recovery and find out how you can help us make it a reality.

* * *

More than 80% of refugees in San Diego suffer from symptoms of trauma & PTSD

Phase 2: Educating Refugee Leaders About Trauma, PTSD and Recovery

What can we do to help?

Barbara English is a licensed Marriage Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Certified Bioenergetic Therapist (CBT) with over 20 years of experience. She is the Executive Director of Living Ubuntu, a non‐profit organization founded in response to her concern about the effects of mass trauma on populations around the globe. She is also a 2009 Carl Wilkens Fellow.

[Ubuntu] n.
Every human being truly becomes a human by means of relationships with other human being.


3 thoughts on “Why is it difficult for refugees to get help for trauma & PTSD?

  1. Pingback: If their homeland had been a safe place to live, they wouldn’t have become refugees. (Part 1) | Living Ubuntu Blog

  2. Pingback: If their homeland had been a safe place to live, they wouldn’t have become refugees. (Part 3) | Living Ubuntu Blog

  3. Pingback: Why does trauma recovery for refugees require a somatic approach? | Living Ubuntu Blog

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