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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .

Psychosocial Wellness of Refugees: Issues in Qualitative and Quantitative Research
Frederick L. Ahearn, Jr.

New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2000
275pp. Index. Pb.: 14.00; ISBN 1-57181-205-9.

In a time when refugee assistance is a paramount concern for government and nongovernmental entities, this volume provides a thoughtful guide for researching psychosocial wellness of refugees. As current therapies for helping traumatized refugees are many and diverse, this work answers the need for methodological tools to gather data on best practices for assisting refugees to recover from the trauma of displacement. The editor, Frederick L. Ahearn, Jr., takes a positive approach to refugee mental health, seeking ways in which humans overcome adversity in order to survive extraordinary circumstances. The authors of this volume stress wellness as a way of studying the psychological consequences of displacement because it underscores the perspectives of strength, resilience, and independence. This work effectively moves from defining wellbeing and critiquing quantitative and qualitative methods of studying it. The first section addresses broad theoretical issues involved in conducting research with refugees and in evaluating psychosocial programs. The authors suggest multi-method approaches to studying refugee psychosocial wellness. These chapters set the stage for case studies from experienced investigators that address pertinent issues in the field. Case studies cite examples of refugees from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Palestine, Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, Eastern Europe, Bosnia, and Chile.

The strength of this work lies in the personal anecdotes in refugee research that illuminate considerations for the researcher, such as the utility of particular research methods and cultural appropriateness. Patricia Omidan describes cultural lessons from her work with Afghan refugees. She stresses the importance of triangulating data through various data collection methods to avoid inaccurate interpretations. For instance, in a study of dental hygiene practices of Afghan refugees, responses reflected a high level of care in brushing and flossing. However, 'brushing' actually meant running a finger over ones teeth after meals and flossing was only used to remove a food particle from around one's tooth after eating, or using a strand of woman's hair in lieu of commercial floss. This example served to validate the need for quantitative techniques, such as participant observation, to enhance qualitative findings. Another important reflection is the way in which the researcher must deal with the emotions of a traumatized individual, and the researchers' emotional repercussions of absorbing negative emotions.

By critiquing tools of research and guidelines for researchers who must consider their own response to accounts of torture, humiliation, and killing, this volume provides a thoughtful and thorough guide for assessing the psychosocial wellness of refugees. I recommend this volume as a comprehensive basic text for students of conflict studies, forced migration, or practitioners involved in refugee research and assistance.

Stephanie Donlon

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