A Global Mental Health Crisis. Today, more than 71 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes and lives by violent conflict, persecution, and related forms of human brutality. All too often, life-threatening migration and ongoing chronic stress post-migration follow. Naturally, responding effectively to the acute humanitarian crisis and basic needs (shelter, food, water, education, medical care) of forcibly displaced people must be our collective priority. Yet, we must also better recognize and help to care for the invisible scars that result from displacement, trauma, stress and loss. Indeed, the consequences of forced displacement all too often entail severe and chronic forms of hidden suffering, including posttraumatic stress, depression, anxiety, anger and aggression, suicidality, and substance abuse. In our work with East African refugees in Israel, as many as 55-80% suffer from severe and chronic trauma- and stress-related mental health problems. Tragically, we have found that less than 1% of asylum seekers here receive any mental health care let alone evidence-based care. Scholars and policy-makers have thus called for the development of brief, effective, and easily implemented interventions to promote trauma recovery and mental health among refugees world-wide.


Healing, One Moment at a Time. We thus developed Mindfulness-Based Trauma Recovery for Refugee (MBTR-R). MBTR-R is a mindfulness and compassion training intervention that is trauma-sensitive and socio-culturally-adapted for diverse populations of asylum seekers and refugee.

Why Mindfulness & Compassion? We developed MBTR-R through years of work with and study of East African asylum seekers in a satellite laboratory embedded in the heart of the East African refugee community in Israel. Driven by our aspiration to pursue clinical science with a human rights mission, we have worked in close partnership with members of the refugee community and NGOs dedicated to the human rights and health of these populations.

First, MBTR-R is grounded in a growing evidence-based linking mindfulness and compassion to recovery from stress-related mental health problems. Our epidemiologic research has repeatedly documented the same association between mindfulness and recovery among asylum seekers. Second, mindfulness training targets universal processes such as attention, awareness, and compassion that transcend language and culture. Third, mindfulness training is delivered in groups, is low-cost, and has been implemented in diverse contexts and populations. In these ways, it may prove to be feasible and scalable intervention framework for refugees.

Mindfulness-Based Trauma Recovery for Refugees: Learn More & Support Refugees

What is Mindfulness-Based Trauma Recovery for Refugees? The intervention involves 9 group sessions (2.5-hours/session) as well as weekly home practice supported by a YouTube channel with weekly guided meditation practices. Briefly, the intervention entails psychoeducation focused on the effects of stress and trauma, mindfulness meditation based closely on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), loving-kindness practices to cultivate compassion for oneself and others, and trauma-sensitive adaptations of meditation to help ensure the safety of meditation for traumatized refugees. The intervention is delivered in ways that are socio-culturally adapted. For example, we involve a cultural mediator/translator from the refugee community in all group sessions, we use socio-culturally relevant metaphors and idioms to communicate ideas throughout the intervention, we integrate cultural practices such as sharing a traditional meal mid-session, etc. Finally, the intervention is delivered within and by the community. For example, the intervention was delivered in a safe space inside the heart of the refugee community, 50% of our team are refugees, members of the community provide child care four group participants, and all shared meals are prepared by members of the community, etc.


Keynote lecture on Mindfulness-Based Trauma Recovery for Refugees at the Annual Happiness and Its Causes Meeting in Sydney, Australia


We recently completed a randomized waitlist-control study of MBTR-R among traumatized E. African (Eritrean) refugees (N=158) who survived unimaginable traumatic stressors and face ongoing chronic stress post-migration. Findings were exciting and remarkably positive. Asylum seekers who received the mindfulness- and compassion-based training experienced significantly reduced levels of posttraumatic stress and depression symptoms and various destructive intra-personal processes (e.g., anger, shame, self-criticism). For example, whereas asylum seekers in the control condition showed the same levels of psychopathology at post-intervention (only 9% recovered from PTSD), the majority of asylum seekers in the MBTR-R recovered (52% recovered from PTSD).

Please see attached materials and ongoing updates here for summary of project findings, documenting the ways in which MBTR-R may help to provide asylum seekers and refugees with moments of refuge and safety in their lived experience, despite the harsh realities of their lives and immediate future; as well as the initial evidence of the transformative potential of MBTR-R to promote longer-term healing and recovery.

Interview with Prof. Amit Bernstein on All in the Mind, National Australian Radio on Mindfulness-Based Trauma Recovery for Refugees

Reaching Thousands of Refugees: Our Next Step. Over the next 3 years, we hope to deliver MBTR-R to diverse populations of asylum seekers and refugees in urban centers (e.g., Athens, Greece) where a majority of forcibly displaced people reside as well as in refugee camps where they have sought safety following forced migration (e.g., Uganda).

First, we are partnering with NGOs and refugee community leaders, health and humanitarian aid service providers, as well as academic partners to reach, deliver and study the potential curative effects of MBTR-R beyond our initial work with Eritrean refugees here in Israel. We are very excited about the potential for this global project do good in the world.

Second, we now also hope to develop a mobile web-based platform for the training, dissemination and flexible implementation of MBTR-R – in way that can readily reach and impact refugees across geographic boundaries and barriers to traditional intervention implementation.

We are now in search of partners, advisors and financial support to enable and sustain this work.

Support Us & Learn More. If you are interested in supporting the delivery of MBTR-R to asylum seekers and refugees world-wide or are curious and would like to learn more about the intervention or our aspirations for this work, please contact us via email at abernstein@psy.haifa.ac.il