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The emotional wellbeing of asylum seekers and refugees: Experiences of psychological therapy and narratives of forced migration

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Mariam Khairat
Publication date3/01/2023
Number of pages209
Awarding Institution
Award date19/10/2022
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This research explores the emotional wellbeing of asylum seekers and refugees through investigating experiences of individual psychological therapy and narratives of forced migration and emotional distress. The thesis consists of a systematic literature review, research paper, critical appraisal and ethics section. The literature review is a metasynthesis of qualitative literature on asylum seekers’ and refugees’ experiences of individual psychological therapy. The data from eight qualitative papers were synthesized using a meta-ethnographic approach and resulted in the development of five themes; (i) the importance of recognition and validation within therapy, (ii) building safety, trust and a human connection within the therapeutic relationship, (iii) revisiting trauma, managing difficult emotions from therapy and regaining hope, (iv) the value of practical interventions, (v) “one should not wake up the djinns (demons)” – cultural stigma and accessing therapy. The results highlight multiple factors for consideration when working therapeutically with asylum seekers and refugees, specifically, the direct impact of socio-political factors on experiences of psychological distress. The research paper utilises a narrative methodology to gain an understanding of 13 refugees’ and asylum seekers’ experiences of forced migration and psychological distress. The analysis of narrative interviews resulted in the development of five themes describing different stages of forced migration and the psychological experiences unique to each stage: (i) a search for safety: leaving everything behind, (ii) the journey: walking over mountains and crossing the sea, (iii) the arrival: unbearable uncertainty, living in limbo and the asylum process, (iv) accepted: realities of living as a refugee and (v) rejected: “where to now?”. The results indicated the importance of recognising the qualitative differences in the experiences of each stage of migration and the implications this has for the psychological support of forced migrants. The critical appraisal reflects on the process and conducting the research considering personal, methodological and ethical issues.