New psychological therapies focused on treating multiple traumas are needed to help refugees involved in Europe's existing migrant crisis. A large population out of the hundreds of thousands of refugees are facing mental health issues.

A multifaceted post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of the conditions refugees risk facing after fleeing from war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan. People suffering from PTSD experience panic attacks and flashbacks, which could lead to sleeplessness and emotional instability.

This particular kind of psychological condition can keep refugees from settling into their new life in a new country. Specialists said administering therapies designed for those who have experienced single-event traumas - such as post-war soldiers and survivors of automobile accidents - will not address the mental health challenges of war refugees. To help in Europe's migrant crisis, therapists in the country are focusing on new psychological therapies designed for the refugees, namely the Intercultural Psychotherapy and Narrative Exposure Therapy.

The Need For Psychological First Aid

One of the health experts working on the front line of Europe's migrant crisis is Aurelia Barbieri, a psychotherapist from Italy. Barbieri provides "psychological first aid" to refugees who arrive in makeshift campsites in Sicily together with the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) charity group.

"They often say they have been imprisoned, beaten all day long, shot at, or scalded with boiling water. They've been treated like beasts," said Barbieri who works with migrants who spent months, even years, fleeing their war-torn homelands.

MSF screenings in the Ragusa province in Sicily revealed that 40 percent of refugees who suffer from mental health conditions have PTSD. The terrifying flashbacks they experience make them believe they are going mad. Barbieri hope that by focusing on listening, the refugees will begin to see that they are now in a safe place, after which, they can begin talking about the traumas that haunt them. Experts from the Helen Bamber Foundation said refugees can lose their ability to have faith, build trust and even create positive relationships with people.

Responding With New Therapy Models

Narrative Exposure Therapy was first developed a decade ago by German researchers Thomas Elbert, Maggie Schauer and Frank Neuner, who focused on multiple-trauma therapies that are designed for delivery in refugee camps. The six-session, hour-long therapy focuses on chronicling the cruelty the refugees experienced.

Katy Robjant, who heads the Helen Bamber Foundation's therapy services department, explained that exposing the patients to the traumatic experiences they endured in a chronological manner will help them conquer the flashbacks.

Other health experts do not believe in exposing their patients to past, painful memories. Instead, they want to focus on overcoming such fears using the Intercultural Psychotherapy approach. Focused on rebuilding psychological resilience, the technique was first developed in the 1970s but was refined in the last decade to focus on helping refugees settle in their new lives.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were about 59.5 million people around the world who were displaced towards the end of 2014. In 2013, the total number was just 51.2 million. The present daily arrivals of nearly 8,000 refugees in Europe could only be the beginning.

While attending to the psychological needs of the refugees, more pressing concerns such as shelter, food and clothing come first. However, these refugees are suffering from serious mental health conditions and therefore may find it harder to meet the basic necessities on their own. Addressing the mental concerns of refugees, especially those who have become suicidal, could be just as important as providing shelter and food.

Photo: Freedom House | Flickr

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