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"It comes down to just how human someone can be": A qualitative study with young people from refugee backgrounds about their experiences of Australian mental health services

Madeleine C Valibhoy, Ida Kaplan, Josef Szwarc
Transcultural Psychiatry 2017, 54 (1): 23-45
27550374
While much literature documents the mental health needs of young people from refugee backgrounds, and the barriers they face in accessing mental health services, researchers have yet to document the perspectives of service users from this population about their contacts with clinicians and services. We therefore individually interviewed 16 young people (aged 18-25 years) who were refugees about their experiences of seeing mental health professionals. Participants were born in 9 different countries and had lived in Australia for an average of 5.2 years. They placed most emphasis on in-session factors, and particularly on interpersonal considerations. Among the main themes identified via thematic analysis were the practitioner's sensitivity to the young person's cultural background and to the stressors affecting him or her, including traumatic refugee experiences, and the therapeutic relationship-especially the qualities of trust, understanding, respect, and a caring connection. The participants had diverse reactions to treatment strategies. They emphasised the role of their preconceptions around mental health services, and called for systematic mental health awareness-raising for young people from refugee backgrounds. Implications for research, policy, and practice are discussed with a focus on findings that may guide efforts to improve service acceptability, accessibility, and effectiveness. In particular, there is a need for practitioners to attend to their clients' experiences of sessions, to adopt an attuned, contextualised, systemic approach, and especially to take a nuanced approach to cultural sensitivity.

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