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Sudanese refugees’ psychological need and mental health care: A phenomenological study of Sudanese beliefs about psychological treatment

Brittany E Gundel, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Over the last several decades, many Sudanese refugees have resettled in the United States after experiencing various forms of trauma, and loss. Additional challenges are incurred as refugees encounter a new culture. Research has linked elevated rates of psychological distress across refugee populations to both pre and post-migration stressors, yet there is evidence to suggest that refugees underutilize mental health services for many reasons. Significant among these barriers are refugee and immigrant reports of cultural insensitivity and lack of cultural competence by mental health care providers. The Contextual Model maintains that imperative to any healing practice is both the client and the helper’s agreement on the rationale provided for their psychological distress as well as the treatment to be provided. This means that both psychological explanations and psychological interventions should align with the client’s belief system. Questioning whether or not the rationale of Western psychotherapy practices align with diverse cultures, such as the Sudanese, is relevant to conceptualizing how counselors and psychologists can provide culturally-meaningful services. This phenomenological study explores the lived psychological experiences of Sudanese refugees (N = 9) and the meanings members of this group have ascribed to Western models of mental health care. Participants were interviewed using a semi-structured interview protocol. All interviews were transcribed and analyzed using Giorgi’s descriptive phenomenological approach. Analysis of data led to the identification of five themes: a) Where the Concerns Lay: Areas of Psychological Need b) Conceptualizations of Mental Illness and Psychological Care; c) Distrust and Ambivalence for Western Mental Health Care; d) Barriers to Western Mental Health Care; e) Connecting Western Mental Health Care to Sudanese Psychological Needs. The results point to the potential of Western mental health services as being effective for Sudanese refugees if they are made more accessible and able to be appropriately adjusted to fit Sudanese culture. The results are discussed with respect to existing refugee literature and their value in better understanding the ways in which psychologists and other mental health providers can connect their services with Sudanese refugee communities.

Subject Area

Mental health|Counseling Psychology

Recommended Citation

Gundel, Brittany E, "Sudanese refugees’ psychological need and mental health care: A phenomenological study of Sudanese beliefs about psychological treatment" (2016). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10143332.