UNHCR reports that about 82.4 million individuals were forcibly displaced as they attempted to avoid persecution, conflict, or human rights violations in their home countries. In addition to traumatic experiences, refugees encounter stressors such as low income, reduced social support, and language barriers. This qualitative study aimed to explore the impact of pre-migration trauma and political detainment on mental health outcomes and living conditions. A total of eight interviewees participated in video conferencing interviews. A non-probability convenience sampling using the snowballing technique was utilized to identify participants. Data were analyzed using an inductive approach for thematic analysis. The software Dedoose was used to come up with codes and the research team refined the codes into distinct themes. Four themes emerged from data analysis: extrinsic barriers, symptoms of psychological distress, coping and help-seeking behaviors, and interpersonal relationships. Results of the study show the intensity and difficulty of experiences faced by participants and the toll it takes on their mental state and family life. The results highlight a lack of resources available to refugees in the United States and a suggestion to further the research efforts for this understudied population.


refugees, trauma, mental health, qualitative research

Author Bio(s)

Zainab Akef, MA, LMHCA is a mental health therapist at Catalyst Counseling located in Woodinville, WA. She graduated from the Pennsylvania State University with a master’s of arts in applied clinical psychology. Her research areas include refugees, trauma, as well as anti-oppressive and decolonial counseling practices. She was awarded the Thomas G. Bowers Award for excellence in Applied Clinical Psychology. Please direct correspondence to zainabakef@gmail.com.

Senel Poyrazli, Ph.D., is a full professor of counseling psychology at Penn State Harrisburg where she has been employed for the past 22 years. She also serves as the chair of Social Sciences and Psychology. Dr. Poyrazli’s research expertise is related to multicultural competency building and acculturation and adjustment experiences of immigrants/refugees/international students. She was awarded a Teaching Excellence Award by Penn State Harrisburg in 2007, the Faculty Diversity Award in 2010, and the Excellence in Faculty Research and Scholarly Activity Award in 2021. In addition, she is the recipient of the Outstanding International Psychologist Award from the American Psychological Association (APA) Division 52 International Psychology and the Excellent Contribution Award from the APA Society of Counseling Psychology International Section. Dr. Poyrazli is a fellow of three divisions at the APA: Division 17 Society of Counseling Psychology, Division 52 International Psychology, and Division 1 General Psychology. She is also a fellow of the Eastern Psychological Association. Please direct correspondence to poyrazli@psu.edu.

Isabel Quintero, MA, is a co-occurring substance use disorder clinician in Lancaster, PA and an adjunct professor of psychology at Penn State Harrisburg. She graduated from the Pennsylvania State University with a Master of Arts in applied clinical psychology. She has research experience encompassing multicultural and feminist psychology, violence prevention, and immigrant health, and received the University Libraries Graduate Research Award from Penn State Harrisburg. Please direct correspondence to itq5003@psu.edu.

Publication Date


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.




0000-0003-4627-0623, 0000-0003-3210-8991



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