A4. Asylum Seekers – Oral Paper Session

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Attachment-based group work for asylum seeker parents: the role of Torture and Trauma Services

Research suggests that asylum seekers have higher rates of mental health problems than the general population (Robjant et al. 2009; Asgary & Segar 2011; Bernardes et al. 2010). Studies also show that asylum seeker parents and their children in held detention exhibit symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress (Steel et al. 2004; Mares et al. 2002). Research of families in detention has also found that children have experienced attachment problems, behavioural disturbances and separation anxiety, while parents have reported a decrease in their parenting capacity (Newman & Steel 2008).

Release from held detention does not necessarily bring an immediate reduction in mental health problems. At the Queensland Program of Assistance to Survivors of Torture and Trauma (QPASTT), it appeared there were particular parenting and family relationship difficulties for asylum seeker families who either had spent time in off-shore detention or were on a negative protection pathway.
In response to clients’ needs QPASTT has run three attachment-based groups for asylum seeker parents. We used the Circle of Security (Cooper, Marvin, Hoffman & Powell 2006) relationship-based attachment parenting group model to structure three groups, held across 2015-2016. Data collected during the group work and feedback from participants indicates that this group work was positively received and parents reported higher levels of confidence in their parenting.

Building on this experience, this paper explores the scope and benefit for torture and trauma services offering attachment-based group-work to asylum seeker parents. In acknowledging the mental health needs of asylum seeker parents and their children, these attachment-based groups address a gap in the literature.

Helen McDonald (Queensland Program of Assistance to Survivors of Torture and Trauma), Tanya Van Bael (Queensland Program of Assistance of Survivors of Torture and Trauma)

Making meaning through storytelling: Working with Asylum Seekers in South Australia

Working with people seeking asylum in Australia is especially challenging because it is difficult for them to achieve a sense of safety and stability, vital for counselling. Immigration demands often neglect to take into account traumatic stress symptoms (i.e. dissociation), exacerbating mental health and well-being. For the many asylum seekers whose immigration status remains unresolved, it is important to help them maintain hope and cope with uncertainty while navigating the immigration system. This presentation describes and evaluates how principles of Narrative Therapy were utilized in work with asylum seekers in South Australia. Storytelling is an inherently human activity and narrative practice assists people to tell stories of their lives and make meaning of life events through the stories they tell. Eventually people try to live the stories they tell in accordance with the meanings they construct. The target group of the intervention were adult men and women from varying socio-cultural backgrounds, seeking asylum in Australia. Narrative principles utilized were: re-authoring and re-membering, externalizing, and outsider-witnessing. Narrative methods included: poetry, the written word, and oral narratives. Improvement in symptoms was measured using the National Minimum Data Set (NMDS), as well as, through therapist and client observations. In addition, the narrative approach was observed to facilitate clients’ journey through the immigration process; and ironically, immigration demands “to present ones trauma story” motivated clients to engage in the narrative process. Additional benefits of the narrative approach included familiarity with storytelling in many cultures, flexibility of approach, enhanced meaning for clients and reinforcement of the client-therapist relationship. This approach also enabled the therapist to discover clients’ unique strengths and coping strategies; and was especially useful in maintaining hope in an otherwise seemingly hopeless socio-political environment.

Teresa Puvimanasinghe (STTARS)

Uncharted waters: assisting asylum seekers in the era of sovereign borders

Unprecedented numbers of asylum seekers awaiting refugee status decisions and the diversity of their social and legal circumstances have posed significant challenges to Australian refugee counselling services. Alongside asylum seekers who have arrived with visas and undergo normal processing, counselling has been provided to asylum seekers who have waited years for the assessment of their claims; who have been detained for up to six years owing to their security or character status; and who have been transferred from a regional processing country. This session presents three related papers. The first describes the policy and legal context which determine asylum seekers’ circumstances and how psychological treatment and advocacy have had to adapt to these circumstances. The second presents our observations about the ability of psychological interventions to assist adults, children and families in detention and in the community while waiting for RSD or removal to a regional processing country. Undertaking thorough psychosocial assessment which identifies the focus of treatment and ascertains the asylum seeker’s capacity to undertake trauma focused work despite the uncertainty of their situation will be discussed. The third paper presents the various ways psychological evidence and the preparation of reports can contribute to ensuring the asylum seeker’s claims are understood and fairly adjudicated by decision makers. While the Australian asylum system has some unique features, such as mandatory detention and transfers to offshore processing, many of the challenges besetting the provision of psychological treatment of asylum seekers are universal.

Ida Kaplan (Foundation House)

Presentation currently unavailable

Complex Trauma, dissociation, delusion: Presentation of symptoms of an Asylum seeker and role of a psychologist in clarifying it with the legal system

The process of asylum seeking in New Zealand can be taxing and challenging for both asylum seekers and the immigration.
This presentation will discuss the complex and demanding efforts required by psychologist to meet the challenges of providing support to an asylum seeker in New Zealand with the Immigration Protection Tribunal (IPT) through the use of a case study of a 30-year-old Palestinian female with complex trauma.

The presence at the Tribunal entailed clarification on the diagnosis, provision of insight on credibility of client within the framework of therapy, provision of insight on the influence of the culture on the symptoms and impact of the decision on the presentation of symptoms. In this study each of the component will be investigated and discussed.

The preparation of the psychologist and the consultation with other professional’s involved in the case will be examined. The presentation will go onto discuss the benefits of such involvement to the client and her family as well as the legal system. Additionally, the challenges involved in ‘psychologist as an expert witness’, maintaining an unbiased perspective, avoidance of ethical pitfalls and the impact on the long term therapeutic relationship between the psychologist and client will be explored.

Frozan Esmati (Refugees As Survivors New Zealand)