Immigrants and Refugees: Trauma, Perennial Mourning, Prejudice, and Border Psychology

Author(s) : Vamik D. Volkan

Immigrants and Refugees: Trauma, Perennial Mourning, Prejudice, and Border Psychology

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Aside from the many political, cultural and economic aspects of the present refugee crisis in Europe, it is also crucial to consider the psychological element. In our fast-changing world, globalisation, advances in communication technology, fast travel, terrorism and now the refugee crisis make psychoanalytic investigation of the Other a major necessity.

Psychoanalyst Vamik Volkan, who left Cyprus for the US as a young man, brings his own experiences as an immigrant to bear on this study of the psychology of immigrants and refugees, and of those who cross paths with them.

In Part I, case examples illustrate the impact of traumatic experiences, group identity issues, and how traumas embedded in the experience of immigrants and refugees can be passed down from one generation to the next. Part II focuses on the host countries, considering the evolution of prejudice and how fear of newcomers can affect everything from international politics to the way we behave as individuals. Volkan also considers the psychology of borders, from the Berlin Wall to Donald Trump. He argues that it is not enough to sympathise with the material plight of people who have left their homes; we must also strive to understand the mental health issues caused by their uprooting.

Reviews and Endorsements

‘Throughout his extraordinary career, Vamik Volkan has met with and listened to political leaders, refugees, traumatised groups, families, intellectuals, and ordinary citizens throughout the world. He has gathered a wealth of intimate, textured information about our collective engagement with the irrational, with a focus on the dynamics of large groups and the unconscious origins of ethnic identities in conflict. In this book, he links this perspective with his own experience as an immigrant, his detailed psychoanalysis of individual immigrants, and his clinical study of immigrant families, children and adults. Volkan has a profound understanding of loss, mourning, and the ways the trauma embedded in the immigration experience is passed on to the next generation. The book is a vivid and evocative portrait of immigration and the irrational and developmental sources of prejudice. With his understanding of the origins of hatred of the “other”, Volkan allows us to see through our clouded vision, opening the possibility of actually learning across difference.’
— Edward Shapiro, MD, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Yale Child Study Center and Former Medical Director/CEO, Austen Riggs Center

‘This is the right book for the right time. Vamik Volkan has dedicated his working life to understanding large-group psychology in order to provide politicians, decision makers and a wider public knowledge about collective human behaviour. The author describes various aspects of the psychology of refugees and immigrants, as well as those of people in host countries who receive them. This book helped me understand better what we are now witnessing in Germany and throughout Europe, and I consider the author’s observations and conclusions to be vital to finding ways to deal with this refugee issue constructively. I recommend this book wholeheartedly, not only to psychoanalysts, but to a wider public as well.’
— Regine Scholz, PhD, member of the Management Committee of Group Analytic Society International and a member of the Advisory Council for Science and Research of the German Society for Group Analysis and Group Psychotherapy

About the Author(s)

Vamik D. Volkan is an Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia, an Emeritus Training and Supervising Analyst at the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute, and the Senior Erik Erikson Scholar at the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. He is the president of the International Dialogue Initiative and a former president of the International Society of Political Psychology, the Virginia Psychoanalytic Society, and the American College of Psychoanalysts. He received the Sigmund Freud Award given by the city of Vienna in collaboration with the World Council of Psychotherapy, and in 2015 received the Sigourney Award, honouring achievements for the advancement of psychoanalysis.

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