The Therapist’s Role In Repairing The Lives Of Refugee Children



There are nearly 60 million individuals and families who have been forced to leave their homes because of oppression and various conflicts across the world. The painful truth is that half of these individuals are children – children who need shelter, food, and clothing. These are children who have physical, mental, and emotional needs that can be provided by a therapist’s professional skills and by ordinary citizens who are compassionate enough to offer help. They have gone through much depression, health problems, stress, and extreme levels of insecurity and social isolation.

Young refugees are quite susceptible to severe poverty, domestic violence, parental neglect, and exploitation. They struggle to cope with where the world places them in whatever environment they are forced to live in. This situation is even worst for child soldiers and minors without parents. They are at least fortunate that there is a rising interest from researchers and experts to understand better how a children’s environment can make or break their ability to develop resilience, strength, and self-confidence. Strategies to improve a child’s physical and mental well-being and social skills have been utilized to help further cope with refugees dealing with PTSD.

Many refugee children have had their attachments violently disrupted as they watched loved ones die of disease or malnutrition or killed in front of them. Few families remain intact as they make their way from battle zones to refugee camps and—eventually—relative safety in the countries that receive them. — Lisa Aronson Fontes Ph.D.

Support Networks

As of today, most of the help for these refugee children come from high-income regions, and there is not enough knowledge on how to help them in areas where resources are not sufficient. This is the latest focus of research and studies to expand the understanding of more countries further so that they can help financially and provide therapists to help them cope and learn survival skills. Some refugee children relocate with their parents while others live their lives by themselves, either because their parents died or they fled alone to escape the turmoil in their country.

Different countries have different systems and settings. Jordan and Lebanon built refugee camps. Other countries offer refuge in their open spaces or centers that have unpleasant conditions. There are still others who are lucky enough to be living independently in a clean and safe neighborhood. In Turkey, for example, there are nearly 200,000 Syrian evacuees that are thriving in 20 camps in the southern Turkish area. The rest of the 2.5 million independently move around the country on their own. In this regard, programs that are geared towards improving the mental health of these young refugees should be modified for various situations.


For the past 15 years or so, organizations research groups have continued to look into how conflicts in the Palestinian regions have affected the mental and emotional health of children, especially on the responsibility of the family to protect and support children. There are also further explorations on how specific techniques can be utilized to help refugee children in Libya, Turkey, and Kenya.

CURRENT LIFE STRESSORS represent powerful threats to refugees’ mental health. As powerful, in fact, as prior exposure to the violence and loss of armed conflict. — Kenneth E. Miller Ph.D.

New Initiatives

Currently, there have been new approaches from middle and low-income regions that have led to the launching of the World Awareness for Children in Trauma program. The organization is creating a new model for refugees, particularly for children who have gone through severe traumatic experiences. The primary goal is to provide a safe and secure environment where these young evacuees can thrive and survive within a system comprising child protection laws and policies. Guardians such as foster parents or orphanage personnel are required to undergo awareness training and should be able to identify symptoms of domestic abuse and exploitation.

A group of adolescent evacuees living in Nakuru, Kenya, suggested that it would be very beneficial for them to have a life skills class and other short courses about improving resilience and self-esteem. In the regions of Burundi and Indonesia, on the other hand, there have been several programs that have succeeded in employing schools and communities to assist refugee children and help them adjust positively to their new environment. Most of these refugees have now returned to school.


For young refugees that suffer from mental health illnesses and do not respond well to the initiatives implemented, therapists, volunteers, and other health professionals are dedicated to providing trauma-centered psychological strategies like cognitive behavioral therapy that can be utilized for children with psychological issues.

In the world’s struggle to protect and help young refugees cope with the pain from their past and the vagueness of the future, NGOs, schools, and the state must unite their forces to succeed.

I think of shame as a kind of dungeon in which you are stuck for life because you feel there is something irreparably bad about you. When you understand that it is not your “self”, but only your behavior that might have been bad, you can experience the less devastating emotion of guilt. — Cedar Barstow, MEd, CHT



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