Group Counseling for Adolescent Immigrants and Refugees

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Being an adolescent usually means a stafe in life associate with a period of transition from childhood to adulthood. Therefore, adolescence generally is co-related with puberty, which consists of a biological phenonemon marked by the increase of hormones, adrenal and gonadal, resulting in development of secondary sex characteristics. This stage is also associated to risk-taking behaviors and increased emotional reactivity. For many of the individuals going through this period if life, adolescence means spending less time with their parents and at the same time, increasig the time with peers, which means more autonomy (Jaworska, 2015). In this paper will consider to discuss the effects and benefits of group couseling for adolescent immigrants, a particular group of individuals with similar developmental, cognitive and social experiences to other adolescents in general, however, having to face challenges related to socio-cultural transitions at the same, given their status as immigrants.

Keywords: Counseling, adolescents, development, behavior, immigrants.


According to the United Nations High Commisioner for Refugees (UNHCR, 2016) there are around 65,3 million individuals forced to leave their homes because of war, political conflicts, and persecution. A good portion of these immigrants or refugees will suffer as consequence of these events, from some mental health disorders such as PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder), depression, and or anxiety-related disorders (Kowitt et al., 2016). It is estimated that about 10.7 million of the immigrants and refugees around the world are composed of individuals under the age of 18 years old, (UNCHR,2016) and 40% of these young immigrants and refugees have a mental health illness diagnosis (Kowitt et al., 2016). Unfortunately for those in need of aid regarding their mental health needs, the situation is not comfortable. The availability in terms of services offered to this population, immigrants and refugees is currenytly oppressive and inequitable (Walker, 2005).

Issues and Concerns Pertinent to Adolescent Immigrants

In general, adolescence is seemed as an important life stage related to personal developmental changes such as transition from parents' dependence to autonomy, and formation of strong ties with their peers instead. At the same time these changes may also affect these individuals in many ways resulting in stress and intense conflicts of inter-generational nature. For many adolescents however, the experiences related to this developmental stage are even intense, given the fact they are also immigrants, having to deal with issues specific to the immigration experience such as adjustment, acculturation, stress, and inter-generation conflicts related of the differential rates of adjustment (Baptiste, 1990). According to Yakushko (2008) immigrants and refugees including adolescents, feel a intense amount of stress due to various factors. The primary focus given by literature on this matter is directly related to their adjustment into a new culture, or acculturation stress. Yakushko (2010) states that eventhough most of the researches focus in the effects of acculturation stress in immigrants after their relocation, however many of these stressors begin to affect their lives even before, or prior to their relocation. Acculturation can be defined as the patterns of reactions experienced by a minority group in relation in their insertion into a new dominant cultural environment. Adolescents in this context are exposed to the same stressors as their parents, and same grandparents in this transition, such as feeling limitations in term of linguistic, difficulties with a new culture, conflict in their relationships associated to cultural changes, family's economic challenges, micro-aggressions, loss of social status and social contact (Yakushko, 2010).

Stress, Self-Efficacy, and Social Challenges of Adolescent Immigrants

Moving to a different country might affect the lives of individuals with the exposure to a different culture and society. This sort of transition provide opportunities for new social roles and offers new oportunities of interaction within the surroundings. If for any individual, the experience of moving from his or her native place of origin to a new country means have their lives affected in all spheres, in the case of adolescent immigrants, the impact involving this may be highly amplified in their lives. Being an adolescent living in a new country means having to rebuild their social network, adapt to new school system, restructure relationship with parents, and learn a new language, new cultural rules, and new norms (Titzmann & Jugert, 2017).

For an adolescent immigrant the experience of immigration to a new country can be easier than for his or her parent or grandparent. Unlike their parents, adolescent immigrants usually demonstrate being more malleable, resulting in a quicker adaption to the new culture, adopting that culture's behaviors, values, habits, and attitudes, like many adolescents from regions of the world such as Latin America, Asia, and Africa who come to the U.S. every year and are able to be inserted in the new culture, assuming their Americaness quickly than their parents (Baptiste, 1990). This difference in acculturation can result in generational conflicts.

It is noted that the period just after the arrival can create a time of crisis among many adolescents, resulting in destabilization in their cognitive and behavioral patterns. According to Bandura (1982) the lack of linguistic skills and discrimination can negatively affect adolescent immigrants mastering their experiences in the new environment and affect their self-efficacy skills and abilities as well.

Group Counseling Among Adolescent Immigrants and Refugees

Based in the specific characteristics involving adolescent immigrants and refugees such as acculturation stress, adjustment to a new environment, and re-establishment of relationships, among many others, it is recommended that counselors working with this population demonstrate sensibility to some aspects related to culturally responsive interventions, in order to build trust and safety for them (Whitfield, 2017). Working in group with adolescents who were relocated to a new country are rare, however there is positive results considering the fact that at this age level, mostly from 12 to 18, these individuals tend to find comfortable and acceptable to pair with other adolescents. This behavioral pattern can be recognized as an important protective factor in assisting these persons to overcome adjustment issues and emotional distress. According to Walsh (2006) resilience plays an important role among immigrant and refugee families, and there are 3 important factors to consider in this matter: belief systems, organizational, and communication process. These factors help in providing cohesiveness and organization related to life events, helping people learning to overcome situations involving crisis. Immigrants, especially adolescents need to be aware about some of the patterns that help to create resilience as they face stressors during their process of acculturation in a new country. Flexibility, connectedness, and social and economic resources are some of patterns related to the development of resilience in the family dynamics. Group counseling in that matter can be helpful as a resource where adolescent immigrants can relate to other people living similar situation, connect to these others, and explore social and economic resources with the exchange of information. Walsh (2006) also mentions that clear consistent messages with speech and actions, open emotional sharing such as mutual empathy, avoiding blame and sharing a wide range of emotions, collaborative problem solving such as creative brainstorming, having a proactive stance, and shared decision making are all keys to promote family resilience. It would beneficial that practitioners using group counseling with adolescent immigrants to emphasize the positive aspects of school-based interventions, given the fact that schools can reinforce proactive behaviors for teen immigrants. Many schools provide mental health services to their students, including those who are immigrants, in some Europeans countries, U.S., and Canada (Fazel et al., 2016). In that matter, group therapy can effectively help to connect immigrant and refugees, especially teenagers or adolescents to the school community. Studies had found that the use of group therapy with immigrants and refugees help build their trust, strengthen their sense of belonging and cultural pride (Hughes, 2014). Group-based narrative is one of the approaches used for practitioners, which consists in allow the youth to express their life experiences to others, with the objective of healing from their emotional traumas (Hughes, 2014). Whitfield (2017) describes how the youth interact during a group-based narrative session. It begins by drawing a tree as a way to empowerment. In the roots they trace their cultural roots and past social interactions, and at ground level, they map their current life. They also drawn their strengths and abilities on the trunk, and their hopes and dreams are inserted on the branches of the tree. Before the beginning of the group, the participants evaluate all the things they wanted to get out of the group, and they express in a scale from far they still are from reaching their goal. As they approach the end of the group, they apply the same actions as they did in the beginning, however with the intention to observe what they gained from that experience in the group. According to Hughes (2013) there is consistent information that the results obtained by these types of group therapy helped the participants to develop cultural pride, increase self-confidence, and peer support. Group Counseling showed to be helpful with East Asian adolescent immigrants with problems related to depression, anxiety, and identity. In order to facilitate this type of service among immigrant communities, it will be helpful to a clinician or counselor to understand the nuances and cultural aspects of that specific group. Therefore, clinicians who are themselves immigrants, possessing bilingual skills, and culturally responsiveness can play a role as cultural brokers, however these considerations do not mean that a non-immigrant and non-bilingual will not be able to perform his or her job in a satisfactory manner.


Working with immigrants and refugees, and specifically with adolescents going through these experiences, adolescence itself and its aspects regarding developmental, cognitive, and social changes given the changes involving individuals in that age, and also other aspects related in that matter with the relocation, acculturation, and social and inter-generational issues that may developed or created as individuals move voluntarily or forcefully from one country to another. The use of therapeutic approaches, being in a group or individual format can help and assist these individuals overcome many of the obstacles that were cited previously in this paper assignment. Group-based narrative approach seems to be an effective way to be applied when dealing with immigrants and refugees in their teen years, helping them to interact, express, connect, and build their trust and self-pride. It is also important that counselors, clinicians, and practitioners acquire and develop abilities and skills so they can perform their duty or mission within those communities with compassion, efficiency, and professionalism. Linguistic skills, cultural responsiveness and competence, and trauma-informed are some of the important abilities to help a professional to better serve his or her clients in an immigrant community, especially those in the adolescence stage.


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