The experiences of mental health professionals supporting forced migrants: A qualitative systematic review

AUTHORS    Iona Myfanwy Newydd, Sophie North, and Imogen Rushworth

LOCATION   National


Many forced migrants experience trauma in pre-migration, journeying, and post-migration phases of flight.  Therefore, appropriate mental health provision is required. Whilst previous reviews have explored the experiences of health-care staff in supporting forced migrants, no review was found that focused solely on the experiences of mental health professionals. This qualitative thematic synthesis integrates the findings from ten qualitative studies and identifies analytical constructs that encompass the challenges and facilitators for mental health professionals.  Findings will inform how services can be developed to best support staff and enable the provision of high-quality mental health care for this potentially vulnerable population.

How does this research apply to my work?

There are a number of challenges to providing appropriate and effective mental health support for forced migrants in the post-migratory phase.  As a service provider in the settlement, social or health care sector, it is likely that you may have experienced these same challenges. This article looks to explore not only these challenges – but the facilitators as well. In turn, the findings from this article may inform service providers needing to adapt their provision to improve care for disadvantaged groups. It also sheds light on the need for appropriate training in the area of forced migration. Access to relevant literature and information on local and national services placed to aid forced migrants should also be facilitated. Given the often-complex needs of this population, inter-service collaboration may be both necessary and helpful.  Moreover, additional time should be allowed for clinicians to build rapport, understand service users’ perspectives and needs, and conduct appointments.  The findings also show access to regular structured supervision with supervisors experienced in working with this population (or who are willing to undertake specific training) should be a priority wherever possible.

What should I take away from this research?

Through this process, three analytical themes emerged, encompassing relative challenges and facilitators of professionals’ experiences:

  • Professionals must be aware of and contend with power differentials
  • Professionals must develop specialist knowledge and skills
  • Witnessing forced migrants’ stories and trauma significantly affects professionals

What’s the next step?

The findings of this review provide vital implications for future research.  This should strive to improve reporting transparency, and consideration of reflexivity in qualitative research.  Research in different geographical settings will be especially useful in contributing to our understanding of mental health professionals’ experiences and how they are influenced by context.  Where strategies to support and improve professionals’ experiences are implemented, evaluations should be undertaken to assess their effectiveness.  Alternatively, evaluations may be employed to identify where care quality may be improved. These should include the perspective of both service users and providers and give voice to the perspectives of forced migrants. This review has also highlighted the issue of service access. Research investigating how we can improve access to services for forced migrants will be imperative in improving provision of mental health support for this population.

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