Potter, Flurina


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“It is worth hanging in there” – Psychotherapeutic experiences shaping future motivation for outpatient psychotherapy with refugee clients in Germany

2023-07-12, Potter, Flurina, Zehb, Marlene, Dohrmann, Katalin, Müller-Bamouh, Veronika, Rockstroh, Brigitte, Crombach, Anselm

Background: A high prevalence of mental disorders in refugees contrasts with a low rate of treatment and limited access to health care services. In addition to pre-, peri- and post-migration stress, language, cultural barriers together with lack of information about cost reimbursement, and access to German (mental) health care institutions are discussed as barriers to use of available services. Such barriers together with insufficient experience of treating traumatized refugee clients may lower therapists’ motivation and facilities to accept refugee clients. A model project called “Fearless” trained, and supervised therapists, translators, and peer counsellors to reduce these barriers and increase therapists’ motivation and engagement in future treatment of refugees. Methods: From a total 14 therapists participating in the project N  = 13 were available for semi-structured interviews. The interviews were scheduled during or after their outpatient psychotherapy of refugee clients and lasted one hour on average. Based on qualitative assessment strategies, open questions addressed the therapists’ experience of challenges, enrichments, and motivation throughout the therapy. Therapists’ responses were analyzed using content structuring qualitative content analysis. Results: Three major challenges modulated therapists’ future motivation for treating refugee clients: specific bureaucratic efforts (e.g., therapy application), organizational difficulties (e.g., scheduling appointments), and clients’ motivation (e.g., adherence, reliability). Still, most interviewed therapists ( n  = 12) evaluated the therapy as enriching and expressed their motivation to accept refugee clients in the future ( n  = 10). Conclusion: Results recommend the reduction of bureaucratic effort (e.g., regular health insurance cover for all refugees) and implementation of organizational support (e.g., peer counsellors) in support of therapists’ motivation for future treatment of refugee clients. Further structural support e.g., with organizing and financing professional translators and referring refugee clients to psychotherapists should be deployed nationwide. We recommend the training in, and supervision of, the treatment of refugee clients as helpful additional modules in psychotherapy training curricula to raise therapists’ motivation to work with refugee clients.


The impact of experiencing severe physical abuse in childhood on adolescent refugees' emotional distress and integration during the COVID-19 pandemic

2022, Potter, Flurina, Dohrmann, Katalin, Rockstroh, Brigitte, Schauer, Maggie, Crombach, Anselm

Background: Accumulating evidence highlights the importance of pre- and post- migration stressors on refugees’ mental health and integration. In addition to migration-associated stressors, experiences earlier in life such as physical abuse in childhood as well as current life stress as produced by the COVID-19-pandemic may impair mental health and successful integration – yet evidence on these further risks is still limited. The present study explicitly focused on the impact of severe physical abuse in childhood during the COVID-19 pandemic and evaluated the impact of these additional stressors on emotional distress and integration of refugees in Germany.

Methods: The sample included 80 refugees, 88.8% male, mean age 19.7 years. In a semi-structured interview, trained psychologists screened for emotional distress, using the Refugee Health Screener, and integration status, using the Integration Index. The experience of severe physical abuse in childhood was quantified as a yes/no response to the question: “Have you been hit so badly before the age of 15 that you had to go to hospital or needed medical attention?” Multiple hierarchical regression analyses further included gender, age, residence status, months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and length of stay in Germany to predict emotional distress and integration.

Results: Two regression analyses determined significant predictors of (1) emotional distress (adjusted R2 = 0.23): duration of being in the pandemic (ß = 0.38, p < 0.001) and severe physical abuse in childhood (ß = 0.31, p = 0.005), and significant predictors of (2) integration (adjusted R2 = 0.53): length of stay in Germany (ß = 0.62, p < 0.001), severe physical abuse in childhood (ß = 0.21, p = 0.019) and emotional distress (ß = −0.28, p = 0.002).

Conclusion: In addition to migration-associated stressors, severe physical abuse in childhood constitutes a pre-migration risk, which crucially affects the well-being, emotional distress and integration of refugees in Germany.