But the children’s psychological health improved after professional family therapy.
“If we are going to be able to manage the complexity and dynamics of families arriving from war zones, we have to highlight the children’s and the parents’ individual perspectives – even if the children don’t openly exhibit psychological health problems or symptoms,” says Gunilla Jarkman Björn (left), who presents her results in her PhD thesis in child and youth psychology.
Nearly half of the world’s more than 45 million refugees and displaced persons are children. There are enormous challenges involved with fleeing one’s country, adjusting to a new society and regaining a sense of coherence.
The families who participated in the study came to Sweden between 1992 and 1995. They had permanent residency in Sweden and at study start had at least one child between five and twelve years of age. The study explored the complexity of various family members’ experiences of life before the war, during the war and their escape, and in their new life in Sweden.
The children underwent psychological assessment and the parents were interviewed about their children’s psychological health. Thirteen children were assessed using the Erica Method, where they express themselves by playing in a sandbox. The results are compared to a group of 80 Swedish children who have undergone the same psychological assessment.
The family therapy sessions were videotaped and the conversations were analysed using a qualitative method.
The results show that the frequency of normal play was lower for the refugee children than the Swedish children, which indicates deviations in the psychological well-being. The parents’ assessment of their children’s psychological symptoms was not in accordance with the psychological assessment of the children. The main result of the thesis is that the psychological well-being of the refugee children improved after three professional family therapy sessions.
PhD thesis: Refugee Children and Families; Psychological Health, Brief Family Intervention and Ethical Aspects. Linköping University Medical Dissertations No. 1373. Public defence of thesis on 4 October 2013 with Prof Cécile Rousseau, McGill University, Montreal, Canada, as opponent.
Gunilla Jarkman Björn’s homepage (in Swedish)