Guidance for emotionally strained refugees

Refugees are often exposed to extreme psychological stress during their flight and thus have an increased risk of mental illness. There is tremendous need for professional help, but the offer for this specific target group is still very limited. A website funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research now pools relevant research projects in the field and offers those affected the opportunity to participate in studies. This also includes the “Better Care” project headed by Prof. Dr. Rita Rosner (Chair of Clinical and Biological Psychology at the KU), which aims to work with child and youth welfare institutions in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg.

According to the Federal Statistical Office, around 1.8 million people seeking protection currently live in Germany. Many of them have been (and still are) exposed to a considerably high stress level. This includes war, persecution and the often long periods of flight, but also the many new demands they face in the host country. The risk of developing mental illness as a result of these experiences is high, and the need for preventive measures, early diagnosis and appropriate treatment is correspondingly urgent. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is currently funding seven Germany-wide research networks that are helping to develop suitable patient-oriented services and offers.

Project participants have now set up the website The aim is to provide information for affected persons who are considering participating in a study, and to reach stakeholders from the care industry, health care sector and science who want to get an overview of ongoing projects. To ensure that such important information actually reaches the target group, the website is available in German, English, Arabic and Farsi.

The corona pandemic has made it much more difficult to find study participants for the individual research projects. The initiators of the website therefore hope that the information spreads quickly within the relevant forums and have programmed the website in such a way that content can be shared via common social media platforms or a QR code. However, project organizers also wants to use personal contacts such as those with Arabic-speaking influencers, aid organizations or even religious contacts.

“With our joint project ‘Better Care’, we want to make a contribution to improving the psychotherapeutic care of unaccompanied young refugees in Germany”, explains Professor Rosner. Within the project, a tiered care approach will be developed, implemented and compared to the standard care approach in Germany regarding its effectiveness. Central contact partners for this are youth welfare facilities that can continue their participation in the project with their residential groups.

Depending on the severity of symptoms, with ‘Better Care’ patients receive exactly the treatment that is best for them. Therefore, participants are screened in a first step of the program to examine their overall mental condition, problems and life quality. In several different questionnaires, participants provide information on the severity of their post-traumatic stress level, depression, anxiety symptoms and substance use as well as on their general life quality and health. Following analysis of the questionnaires, participants and youth welfare institutions will receive feedback on whether there is need for treatment.

For participants who are diagnosed with mild to moderate symptoms, the treatment approach suggests a group prevention program titled “My way” as a next step. This program gives education professionals the opportunity to support young refugees in overcoming their traumatic experiences and in dealing with everyday challenges and burdens.

For patients with clinically relevant symptoms, the new treatment model suggests individual treatment in form of a “trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy” (TF-CBT). The researchers also want to use ‘Better Care’ as a tool to expand the therapy approach further. To this end, the Chair of Clinical and Biological Psychology at the KU has established an online training offer for certified psychotherapists (

For more detailed information on the project, please visit