Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A Look at How Psychology Can Help and Support Refugees


by: Marcela Olavarria Turner, M.A., C.Psych. Assoc.

In recognition of World Refugee Day, we want to highlight how psychology can help and support refugees in their journey to building their lives in Canada. According to the UN Refugee Agency, as of 2016, there are 121,267 refugees and asylum seekers in Canada alone, and a sky rocking 67.75M refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, returnees, stateless and vulnerable persons worldwide. Before arriving at a receiving country, many refugees experience things such as war, violence (sexual, physical and psychological), torture, political repression, and multiple losses. They can also experience harsh conditions while transitioning to a safer place, such as more exposure to violence, separation from loved ones, uncertainty about their own and loved ones' safety, doubt about both their future and about the outcome of their migration. 

Despite these experiences, refugees show remarkable ability to adapt and cope with such adversity. Nonetheless, once refugees have arrived in safer places such as Canada, they can still experience temporary or enduring difficulties as a result of migratory experiences and stressors related to adapting to a new social, economic and cultural environment. These difficulties might be: 

  • Physical: difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, muscle tension, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, decreased or increased appetite, etc.
  • Emotional: intense fear and feeling of insecurity; mood swings; irritability; overwhelming emotions; anger and sadness
  • Changes in thoughts: changed sense of how you perceive yourself, the world, others, and how you relate to others; demoralization, disillusionment; helplessness and/or hopelessness;
  • Changes in behaviour: restlessness; moving or speaking very slowly; withdrawal; being easily startled;  


If you can relate to the portrait painted above, know that you are not alone. There are professionals and organizations that can (and want to) help. 

Psychology can help reduce the impact of some previously noted difficulties by using proven and effective treatment strategies that respect cultural background and the strengths present in each individual. Psychological services help people heal fostering psychological coping strategies, connections through a social support system and keeping active. Therapy is a safe place to learn about and explore one's mental health struggles while strengthening one’s capacity to adapt to challenging life events.

CFIR's refugee assessment services provide psychological and neuropsychological assessments for those individuals facing Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) reviews. For more information, please visit our Immigration & Refugee Assessment Service page.
As a refugee, if you need additional support, consider also consulting the ‘Services for Refugee Claimants in Ottawa’ online document.

Monday, June 4, 2018

How We Approach Treatment Options at CFIR


Photo by Justin Veenema



At Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR), we believe it is important for your clinician to be flexible in offering a variety of scientific, evidence-based treatments to address the cognitive, emotional, behavioural and relational aspects of your concerns. Providing you with different possibilities for change is fundamental to us because we know that no one treatment fits all!

Different treatments focus on various aspects of your concerns, including behaviours, cognitions, emotions, perceptions, and relationships. We've compiled a list of a few scientific, evidence-based psychological treatments available at CFIR along with the focus of the treatment approach:

Acceptance and Commitment, Compassion & Mindfulness-based therapies (ACT, MBSR)

Acceptance and Commitment, Compassion & Mindfulness-based therapies (ACT, MBSR) are forms of psychotherapy that support an individual to learn how to observe, be less reactive, accept and be non-judgmental of internal thoughts or emotional reactions. ACT helps you to act from core values as opposed to being entangled in the thoughts and emotional responses that are at the root of your concerns. Developing a more compassionate outlook towards your self is also essential for remediation of various mental health concerns. Treatment focuses on developing the capacity to observe, adopt a non-judgmental stance toward thoughts and feelings, and diminish reactivity while anchoring the self in core values to promote clarity in thinking and action.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that addresses psychological issues by focusing primarily on the cognitive and behavioural dimensions of your emotional and behavioural concerns (i.e., the way that your thoughts, beliefs or thinking influences your emotional and behavioural responses). CBT also focuses on problem-solving, finding solutions, improving coping, helping you to challenge distorted cognitions (e.g., thoughts, beliefs) and change problematic behaviours. Your emotional or behavioural responses transform through exposure to specific situations, cues, narratives or places that trigger distress and maladaptive responses. Homework is often assigned.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a form of treatment that came to be from a context of treating patients to deal with and process distressing memories of past traumatic experiences. It's currently used to treat a broader range of psychological issues. Treatment involves visual or auditory bilateral stimulation with a primary focus on the integration of distressing aspects of past, and present experiences and increasing adaptation and resilience by building inner resources to address these experiences.

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing is a form of counseling that helps individuals achieve changes by increasing their motivation to change difficult behaviours. Treatment targets ambivalences about changing, and becoming increasingly aware of the problems, consequences, and risks of these behaviours. Motivation is increased to create a better future consistent with an individual’s values and principles.

Psychodynamic, Attachment-based, Mentalization therapies

Psychodynamic, attachment-based, mentalization therapies focus on how past and current relationship experiences have influenced a person’s present patterns (i.e., thoughts, thinking about self and other, emotional reactions toward self and others, and behaviours) and relationships. Psychoanalytic-oriented approaches have a rich, historical tradition beginning with Freud and Jung to present-day scientifically validated psychodynamic approaches. The goals of psychodynamic-mentalization and attachment-based therapies are to increase an individual’s self-awareness about these patterns to promote change in the present-day.

Concerns flow from internal conflicts, dynamics, and patterns that create difficulties for our self and block us from building meaningful lives and relationships. Defenses and self-protective strategies that prevent access to earlier emotionally overwhelming experiences are diminished over time to promote more adaptive functioning, self-growth, and change. Treatment focuses on cognition, emotion, and interpersonal dimensions of your difficulties. Your interpersonal relationships, both with your therapist and others, are explored to understand and change how one experiences oneself and relates to others in interpersonal relationships. These approaches tend to focus on the self and relational issues underlying your symptoms and distress, as opposed to targeting symptoms directly.

Systemic therapy

Systemic therapy is a form of psychotherapy that understands problems evolving in interactions and interaction patterns with other individuals and systems. Treatment focuses on the impact of your couple partner, children, family, work and socio-cultural system on your self and your relationship with others.

CFIR clinicians can help you or someone you care about address the concerns, issues or struggles that life may occasionally present.

Most private extended insurance plans, as well as Medavie/BlueCross (RCMP, Veterans Affairs, Canadian Armed Forces) and CUPE, cover CFIR services.

Contact us today. Help is available right now for you and your loved ones! We also offer video-based appointments.