Practical Psychology for Helping Displaced People

A Knology researcher describes an education project for providing displaced persons with practical skills and emotional support to help them enter the workforce.

by John Fraser
Nov 1, 2021

Conflict, famine, and climate-related weather crises are currently fueling displacement worldwide. This migratory crisis is often mis-identified as a refugee crisis, but many people experiencing displacement do not qualify for refugee status. All the same, they live in a world where they have lost their homes, suffered persecution and assault, and borne witness to the death and suffering of their loved ones. The traumas of displacement are not temporary events, but a central part of self-understanding.

Identity development is a lifelong mental process that seeks to make sense of prior experiences and feedback, leading to self-knowledge. Psychological research has shown that early adulthood is a period characterized by willingness to adjust and evolve previously established commitments, story integration of previous identity work, and participation in a broader life context.

In contrast, research on displacement experience focuses on the disruption of those psychological growth processes in ways that cause long-term harms, disrupting adjustment and adaptation due to post-traumatic stress and psychopathology due to war and conflict. These experiences can diminish potential for successful resettlement without interventions that can aid these people in a reconstructed ‘possible self.’ For displaced persons, the struggle to reconcile a new-found security with prior experiences is not simply shedding a former skin. It is a process that is made exponentially more challenging by the following set of circumstances:

  • Psychosocial distress from displacement events;
  • Disrupted educational pathways;
  • Language barriers from movement to a non-native setting; and
  • Societal barriers from movement to a non-native setting.

These barriers disrupt a displaced person’s belief in the possibility of a positive future life, defining themselves through their trauma rather than their assets. They also disrupt their ability to reconcile their past experience with predictions of their future life. Developing a new narrative describing a positive ‘possible self’ is a critical part of identity development that includes trauma reconciliation. The leading global authority on displaced persons - the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) - concurs: “With limited access to post-primary education and livelihood opportunities, without the right to work and with no certainty of a durable solution, young people are often unable to plan a future life for themselves and have described their lives as ‘living in a state of limbo.’”

This state of being is compounded by two societal conditions:

  1. A rapidly changing workplace that is making it difficult for most people to prepare for the near future. Such a workplace is driven by the convergence of digital replication, exponential computing growth and combinatorial innovation.
  2. A COVID-19 reality that disrupted even the most limited of hopes for migration by displaced persons, exacerbating their psychological stress, placing them in congregate settings where the virus is mutating without abatement, and excluding them from access to in-person educational opportunities that NGOs were able to provide before the outbreak.

In the midst of the pandemic, Knology partnered with Kiron, a global education provider for people experiencing displacement, and Meridian Stories, an organization that uses media training tools to help learners develop 21st century skills. Together, we’ve developed the concept for a breakthrough digital intervention that provides displaced persons ages 16 and older with the practical skills and social emotional support to enter the workforce of the 21st century securely, safely, and confidently.

The project, “My Stronger Self,” focuses on equipping learners with industry-focused skills while supporting their psychosocial needs in a unique way. A self-directed program based on digital storytelling, this pilot will holistically address the learning needs of displaced persons, and help them to create a digital portfolio that will open pathways toward further academic and professional possibilities. By creating this program based on addressing psychosocial needs and the development of digital skills at the same time, we strive to make the promise of a self-determined and fulfilled life through education a reality for those whose lives were disrupted by crises around the world.

The three partners recognize that displaced persons are a unique population. By working together, we intend to create the first digital learning environment that uses the only two psychologically proven interventions for addressing the traumas of displacement. The program is based in equal measure on cognitive behavioral interventions and guided interpersonal therapeutic processes to support a learner through their self-directed learning. The solution features digital storytelling as the primary educational unit. Digital Storytelling delivers on key 21st century skills that prepare youth for an unpredictable future and delivers a practical and useful portfolio for communicating value to the local community. Digital storytelling also offers a neutral therapeutic tool that can help both immigrants and refugees process the disruptions between their past and aspirational future.


Meridian Stories

Cover photo credit: Kiron

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