Changing the practice of organisations that work with vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Essex
Unit of AssessmentSociology
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Summary of the impact
Essex research on understanding the vulnerability of displaced persons
has changed the practice of organisations that work with asylum seekers
and refugees. Professor Renos Papadopoulos' research has focused on the
resilience and strengths of the individual, rather than seeing him/her as
a passive `victim'. This approach has informed two instruments that are
used to assess vulnerability: the Trauma Grid and ASPIS. These instruments
have been adopted by a number of organisations throughout the world and
Papadopoulos has produced a training manual and provided training
programmes for frontline and management staff. The examples provided here
document his work with organisations based in the UK, Greece, Colombia and
The underpinning research by Papadopoulos developed a new theoretical
framework and a new approach—`Psychosocial Perspectives on Human
Rights'—to account for the uniqueness of the experience of being a refugee
or asylum seeker. He has also developed new instruments to assess the
vulnerability of asylum seekers. Papadopoulos' research is premised on the
insight that in understanding trauma the person must not be overlooked and
treated simply as a product of the trauma. Instead of over-emphasising the
trauma, his approach is to consider the whole person, including his/her
strengths and potential.
The research developed the concept of `Nostalgic Disorientation'
(Papadopoulos, 2002) as a generic (non-psychiatric) condition that asylum
seekers develop. It is defined as disorientation that activates the
yearning for one specific and tangible state of home and belonging. The
research also introduced a specific definition of `Resilience', which
refers to the individual's ability to maintain his/her existing qualities,
despite the experience of trauma (Papadopoulos, 2007). Papadopoulos' key
research finding is that vulnerability of refugees cannot be understood as
an absolute but depends entirely on the given environment, especially the
services that are available. For example, a refugee with a disability is
not vulnerable because of the disability per se, but may become vulnerable
if his/her disability restricts his/her opportunities.
Papadopoulos' ideas were operationalised through his development of an
instrument to assess vulnerability, the Trauma Grid (Papadopoulos, 2007).
This provides a comprehensive framework to map out the wide range of
refugees' responses to adversity that includes not only the pathological
but also positive ones. The unique aspect of this approach is that the
existing strengths of the individual are taken into account, and it also,
more controversially, considers Adversity Activated Development where it
is acknowledged that exposure to adversity may have positive effects for
The need to measure vulnerability was demonstrated by the 2007 European
Commission Green Paper on the Future Common European Asylum System,
which, inter alia, stressed the need for Member States to have
procedures in place to identify vulnerable asylum seekers. Following the
Green Paper, Professor Papadopoulos was approached by the International
Organisation for Migration (IOM) and asked to lead a four-country project
to address the issue of defining vulnerability in asylum seekers:
Enhancing Vulnerable Asylum Seekers' Protection (EVASP). Their request was
based on their familiarity with his research, including the Trauma Grid.
As part of the EVASP project, Papadopoulos produced an EVASP Trainers'
Handbook to be used by any suitably qualified individual. The aim of this
manual is to equip facilitators with the appropriate knowledge and
techniques for providing training to organisations that provide services
for vulnerable asylum seekers.
Papadopoulos thus engaged in further research as part of the EVASP
project, which involved drawing on his theoretical ideas in order to meet
the specific task of producing further tools for assessing vulnerability
that could be employed in the field and be used by various organisations
and agencies working with refugees. This led him to develop the Asylum
Seekers Protection Indices (ASPIS), which constitute a comprehensive means
of assessing vulnerability by addressing various facets of the
individual's life. Ten dimensions are used in order to indicate the
vulnerable position of the individual in regard to the environment that he
or she inhabits; however, positive factors of each dimension are included
alongside these vulnerable positions. The ultimate purpose of this is the
protection of the individual.
References to the research
Papadopoulos, R. K. (2002) Refugees, home and trauma. In R. K.
Papadopoulos (ed.) Therapeutic care for refugees: No place like home.
London: Karnac. Tavistock Clinic Series. ISBN 1855752832
Papadopoulos, R. K. (2007) Refugees, trauma and Adversity-Activated
Development. European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling,
9(3): 301-312. DOI:10.1080/13642530701496930
Papadopoulos, R. K. (2009) Extending Jungian psychology: Working with
survivors of political upheavals. In G. Heuer (ed.) Sacral
revolutions: Reflecting on the work of Andrew Samuels. Cutting edges in
psychoanalysis and Jungian analysis. London: Routledge. ISBN
Papadopoulos, R. K. (2010) Working with refugee and asylum seeking
families. In R. Singh and S. Dutta (eds.) "Race" and culture. Tools,
techniques and trainings: A manual for professionals. London:
Karnac. ISBN 1855757710
Papadopoulos, R. K. (2011) The Umwelt and networks of archetypal
images: A Jungian approach to therapeutic encounters in humanitarian
contexts. Psychotherapy and Politics International, 9 (3):
212-231. DOI: 10.1002/ppi.252
Papadopoulos, R. K. Enhancing Vulnerable Asylum Seekers' Protection
(EVASP). International Organisation for Migration, 01.01.09 to
Details of the impact
The research carried out by Papadopoulos, especially the development of
the Trauma Grid and ASPIS, has had impact throughout the world.
Papadopoulos has provided training and influenced the practice of
organisations that work with asylum seekers and refugees in the UK,
Greece, Sudan, and Colombia.
Impact in Europe
Papadopoulos has worked with the Refugee Council's Therapeutic Casework
Unit (TCU) since 2011 and a Cooperation Agreement was signed between the
Refugee Council and the University of Essex in 2013 [corroborating source
1]. Papadopoulos has collaborated closely with the TCU, sharing the
findings of his research and providing training for staff. A member of the
TCU team has stated that the Trauma Grid "provides the best framework for
adopting a holistic perspective to working with refugees" [corroborating
source 2]. She adds that the TCU has adopted Papadopoulos' thinking on
Resilience and Adversity-Activated Development and has recognised that his
thinking "enables a tangible shift away from pathologising ordinary
distressful experiences that were the result of extraordinary experiences"
. Further to this, she states that "the ASPIS instrument that he
developed from his EVASP research is a most useful instrument that we use
in order to ascertain the degree of vulnerability in our clients" .
Papadopoulous' research has proved fundamental to the practice of the TCU:
"In short, the way TCU is currently practicing is essentially based on
Professor Papadopoulos's research findings. All members of TCU and the
Refugee Council who have attended his trainings and are familiar with his
work are impressed and feel that their grasp of their work has been
deepened and their expertise has been increased" .
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
The project manager of the UNHCR's Response to Vulnerability in Asylum
(RVA) project met with Papadopoulos in November 2012 to discuss the EVASP
project . This was part of the process of information gathering for the
RVA project, which focuses on the response to vulnerable asylum seekers in
Central Europe. The research conducted by the UNHCR as part of the RVA
project found that the ASPIS tool developed by Papadopoulos had been
adopted by two organisations in the UK that work with asylum seekers :
the Scottish Refugee Council and Asylum Link Merseyside. Papadopoulos was
invited to speak at the RVA project's mid-term conference in Prague in
April 2013 — an event that brought together government stakeholders and
external experts to discuss the initial findings of the project and look
at practical ways of identifying and supporting vulnerable asylum seekers
. In addition, he has spoken at two joint conferences organised by
UNHCR: `No Place Like Home: The refugee experience from dislocation to
relocation' (June 2010) and `Vulnerability or Resilience' (November 2011)
The Day Centre Babel, Greece
The Greek mental health unit, the Day Centre Babel, which works with
refugees and immigrants in Athens and is part of the Ministry of Health's
Psychargos programme, has adopted Papadopoulos' approach and supplied
training to other organisations in Greece. Papadopoulos has provided
ongoing supervision and consultation to Babel and was twice (in May 2012
and April 2013) invited to Greece to provide training — this involved 25
members of Babel staff and 70 participants from other organisations .
Babel's Director has stated that "the impact of Professor Papadopoulos'
work has been decisive on the way Babel operates. The therapeutic approach
we follow (and the one we train others to follow) is based on Professor
Papadopoulos' `Trauma Grid' and ASPIS, both from the EVASP research
project" . Babel have used Papadopoulos' approach to train staff in
other partner organisations (including KETHEA-Mosaic, Medical
Intervention, and Arsis) and have drawn on the EVASP trainers' manual to
do so, which they have translated into Greek .
Unidad para las Víctimas, Colombia
The Unidad para las Víctimas is a Bogota-based government agency that
works with the victims of the internal armed conflict in Colombia.
Papadopoulos visited the newly-established Unidad in August 2012 and gave
a series of seminars to members of staff who were in the process of
defining the guidelines for its programmes and policies . His visit had
two major impacts. Firstly, in working with the Psychosocial Group at the
Unidad he shed new light on the concept of victim. The Director of the
"His work made us rethink the way in which we were conceiving of victims.
We learnt they are not—and cannot be—passive individuals in their own
rights restitution processes. On the contrary, as active agents, the
empowerment derived from the victims' actions creates capacities for the
individuals and for the community as a whole. These capacities allow
victims to take hold of their own reparation processes and make them
sustainable over time" .
The second main impact of Papadopoulos' visit was to prepare the
facilitators that would go on to provide a training programme in
psycho-social skills for 300 staff from Unidad and other similar
institutions. This training programme took place in October 2012 .
AHFAD Trauma Treatment and Training Centre, Sudan
The AHFAD University for Women in Sudan formed the `AHFAD Trauma
Treatment and Training Centre' (ATTTC) in Khartoum in 2012 and asked
Papadopoulos (through the War Trauma Foundation) to develop the training
programme for its staff and associates and deliver part of the training
himself. 22 professionals have participated in the training that
Papadopoulos has provided (in May 2012, October 2012 and July 2013) .
He was invited to train staff at ATTTC due to his research on trauma — an
approach that the Director of ATTTC describes as "unique in the
professional world and is expressed in the `Trauma Grid'". She goes on to
say, writing in July 2013, "The `Trauma Grid' has become the main
framework of all our work at ATTTC and this is clearly expressed in the
Training and Practice Manual that we are in the process of writing now"
Sources to corroborate the impact
All documents are available from HEI on request.
 Cooperation Agreement between the University of Essex and the Refugee
Council, signed February 2013.
 Therapeutic Casework Services Manager, Refugee Council.
 Senior Regional Protection Officer, UNHCR.
 Details of the UNHCR-organised `No Place Like Home: The refugee
experience from dislocation to relocation' and `Vulnerability or
 Director of the Day Centre Babel.
 General Director of Unidad para las Víctimas
 Director of AHFAD Trauma Treatment and Training Centre.