Culture and diversity

April 2010

FocusCulture and diversity

Compassionate listening

Managing psychological trauma in refugees

Volume 39, No.4, April 2010 Pages 198-203

Joanne Gardiner

Kate Walker

‘Difficult as it is really to listen to someone in affliction, it is just as difficult for him to know that compassion is listening to him’.1


The physical and psychosocial effects of trauma in refugees are wide ranging and long lasting. They can affect symptom presentation, the patient-doctor relationship and management of refugee victims of trauma.


This article discusses how refugees survivors of trauma may present to the general practitioner and gives an approach to psychological assessment and management.


A strong therapeutic relationship built by patient led, sensitive assessment over time is the foundation to care. A management framework based on trauma recovery stages and adapted for general practice, is presented.

General practitioners are often the first and most accessible medical contact for refugees and humanitarian entrants in Australia. Refugees’ history of trauma has profound effects on their physical and psychological health, ability to settle into Australian life and experience of the GP consultation. General practitioners can have a valuable role in managing both the physical and psychological effects of trauma. A strong therapeutic relationship built with a GP promotes recovery, settlement and trust toward the wider community.

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