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New guidelines for psychologists working with refugees and asylum seekers

12 February 2018

When asylum seekers arrive in the UK they may believe this signals an end to their difficulties, but the reality can be different.

Professor Bill Yule from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, says:

“Asylum seekers have shown great fortitude in fleeing to this country. They bring many skills and experiences with them. But they may not always be familiar with the way things are done in their new country. Many individuals and organisations have offered to help them settle, but while many local communities show support, some others may show a lack of interest or worse. Asylum seekers may experience a lot of stresses such as homelessness, social exclusion, stereotyping and overt discrimination. The psychological impact of this realisation can be significant.”

This is one of the points emphasised in new guidelines for psychologists working with refugees and asylum seekers produced by the British Psychological Society.

Produced by the Society’s Presidential Taskforce on Refugees and Asylum Seekers, of which Professor Yule was Chair, these guidelines say psychologists have an important role in supporting refugees and asylum seekers and supporting the institutions and communities of which they form part.

The guidelines offer guidance on supporting different client groups such as adults, families and children, young people and unaccompanied minors. There is also guidance on working in the wider community and in settings such as the workplace and nurseries, schools and colleges. The practicalities of working with interpreters are discussed too.

Other points for psychologists emphasised in the guidelines include:

  • Asylum seekers may assume you are familiar with the politics and the human rights record of their country of origin. This may mean that they do not immediately disclose their experiences of human rights abuses, including torture, and you may need to ask about this.
  • Someone who has to seek asylum in another country is likely to encounter multiple losses – loss of home, culture, family, profession, language and friends, as well as their plans for the future. Getting to the country may involve trauma.
  • Families are often split up and the journey is frequently fraught with risk and numerous dangers including arrest, theft, kidnap and sexual violence.

Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, a former President of the Society who set up the taskforce, says:

“The number of refugees and asylum seekers in the United Kingdom, across Europe and across the world has increased dramatically since 2015. This developing worldwide crisis has resulted in headlines about thousands of people experiencing traumatic events, crisis and disaster with alarming frequency.

“As a discipline and a profession, psychology has a wealth of knowledge, experience and talent to apply in this area to help improve the lives of those who have fled their countries and are seeking safety. Psychological evidence and practice can help to equip individuals, organisations and communities with the knowledge, skills and understanding that they need in order to help them navigate challenging experiences in a complex world.”

The Society’s Presidential Taskforce on Refugees and Asylum Seekers is an expert group that includes academic and practitioner clinical, community, counselling, educational and occupational psychologists.

Professor Hacker Hughes says:

“I formed the BPS Presidential Taskforce on Refugees and Asylum Seekers in order to pool the expertise of Society psychologists to provide the best possible advice to psychologists and others working in this field. I wanted this special group of people to receive the very best psychological services. I am delighted that this report is now publicly available.”


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