Work of the Bologna Transcultural Psychiatric Team (BoTPT) with refugees and asylum seekers: when remembering helps

Il lavoro del Centro di Studio e Ricerche G. Devereux – Bologna Transcultural Psychiatric Team (BoTPT) con i rifugiati e i richiedenti asilo: per una memoria utile

I. Tarricone1, 2, E. Mencacci1,3, M. Braca1, F. Salvatori1, S. Di Marco1, M. Nolet2, V. Storbini1, D. Berardi1,2

1 Sezione di psichiatria, Dipartimento di Scienze Mediche e Chirurgiche, Alma Mater Studiorum, Università di Bologna; 2 Centro di Salute Mentale Ovest, DSM – Ausl di Bologna; 3 Dipartimento di Scienze della Cognizione e della Formazione, Università di Trento


Refugees and asylum seekers are a growing population in Western countries. The dramatic life situations from which they escape, and the difficulties of integration within host countries, are associated with the onset of trauma-related mental disorders (feelings of displacement, loss of identity) and major psychiatric disorders such as PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder.

Aims and methods

The increasing number of refugees referred by welcome centres, where they live, has led the Bologna BoTPT (Bologna Transcultural Psychiatric Team) Study and Research Centre to develop an operational plan aimed at improving care of these individuals. We chose to cooperate with social workers involved with integration projects to strengthen their listening skills and ability to recognize the needs expressed by asylum-seekers, and get them to compare their work experiences in a self-help/mutual-aid group guided by a mental health professional. Furthermore, we created a setting that responds to patients’ requests for help, focusing not only on traumatic events, but also on distress related to existential uncertainty that they experience when settling in.

Results and critical points

We found an improvement in social workers’ ability to cope with the stress of relating to refugees and their needs. Our work also led us to reappraise the category of PTSD, which is often inadequate to describe the complex experience of these patients.


Our work has helped to identify ways of strengthening collaborative activities between the City Council, as it is the institution in charge of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers, and the Mental Health Centre.

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