What is it about?

Individuals seeking refuge and asylum often present with a range of embodied symptoms of psychological distress. In order to offer culturally appropriate support it is important to have an understanding of their needs. This publication is a comprehensive scoping review of literature on refugees, asylum seekers, and practitioners’ perspectives of embodied trauma. We followed a five-stage scoping review protocol as follows: 1. Identifying a research question (what are the perspectives of embodied trauma that individuals seeking refuge and asylum and those that support them have) 2. Identifying the relevant literature 3. Selecting the studies 4. Charting the data 5. Collating, summarising, and reporting the results Our summary of the results highlight the need for a clear definition of terms such as embodied trauma, and the importance of developing culturally informed assessment and formulation practices for individuals experiencing it. This paper also reveals a gap in the research for the best treatment approach(es) for embodied trauma in individuals seeking refuge and asylum.

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Why is it important?

This paper defines and clarifies the novel term embodied trauma. This is important because in working with individuals seeking refuge and asylum presenting with trauma we acknowledge an absence of dualism, seeing the mind and body as interconnected and requiring holistic therapeutic care. We define the novel term of embodied trauma as: the whole body’s response to a significant traumatic event, where mental distress is experienced within the body as a physiological, psychological, biological, cultural, or relational reaction to trauma. Embodied trauma may include psychosomatic symptoms alongside the inability to self-regulate the autonomic nervous system and emotions, resulting in states of dissociation, numbing, relational disconnection, changed perceptions, or nonverbal internal experiences which affect every-day functioning.


As this comprehensive scoping review defines the novel term embodied trauma and highlights a gap in the research for the best treatment approach(es) for its presentation in individuals seeking refuge and asylum, it informs practice in the wider field of psychotraumatology. This maybe of interest to any professionals or researchers working with or supporting individuals seeking refuge and asylum. Our conceptualisation of key themes, including highlighting the need for a comprehensive approach to psychological assessments and a range of culturally informed psychotherapeutic interventions, relays our relational and holistic approach to working with those experiencing trauma. Lastly, we hope that our formulation of a bio-psycho-social-sexual-spiritual approach to culturally informed care and future research informs compassionate psychological practice and research.

Charlotte Victoria O'Brien
York St John University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Refugees, asylum seekers, and practitioners’ perspectives of embodied trauma: A comprehensive scoping review., Psychological Trauma Theory Research Practice and Policy, August 2022, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/tra0001342.
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