Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from Conflict and Health and BioMed Central.

Open Access Open Badges Research

Family therapy sessions with refugee families; a qualitative study

Gunilla Jarkman Björn12*, Per A Gustafsson12, Gunilla Sydsjö34 and Carina Berterö5

Author Affiliations

1 Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinic, University Hospital, Linköping, S 581 83, Sweden

2 Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden

3 Division of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden

4 Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Linköping County Council of Östergötland, Linköping, Sweden

5 Division of Nursing Science, Department of Medical and Health Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, Linköping University, Linköping , S 581 83, Sweden

For all author emails, please log on.

Conflict and Health 2013, 7:7  doi:10.1186/1752-1505-7-7

Published: 27 March 2013



Due to the armed conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s many families escaped to other countries. The main goal of this study was to explore in more detail the complexity of various family members’ experiences and perceptions from their life before the war, during the war and the escape, and during their new life in Sweden. There is insufficient knowledge of refugee families’ perceptions, experiences and needs, and especially of the complexity of family perspectives and family systems. This study focused on three families from Bosnia and Herzegovina who came to Sweden and were granted permanent residence permits. The families had at least one child between 5 and 12 years old.


Family therapy sessions were videotaped and verbatim transcriptions were made. Nine family therapy sessions were analysed using a qualitative method with directed content analysis.


Three main categories and ten subcategories were found - 1. Everyday life at home, with two subcategories: The family, Work and School/preschool; 2. The influence of war on everyday life, with three subcategories: The war, The escape, Reflections; 3. The new life, with five subcategories: Employment, Health, Relatives and friends, Limited future, Transition to the new life.


Health care and social welfare professionals need to find out what kind of lives refugee families have lived before coming to a new country, in order to determine individual needs of support. In this study the families had lived ordinary lives in their country of origin, and after experiencing a war situation they escaped to a new country and started a new life. They had thoughts of a limited future but also hopes of getting jobs and taking care of themselves and their families. When analysing each person’s point of view one must seek an all-embracing picture of a family and its complexity to tie together the family narrative. To offer refugee families meetings with family-oriented professionals to provide the opportunity to create a family narrative is recommended for the health and social welfare sector. Using this knowledge by emphasizing the salutogenic perspectives facilitates support to refugee families and individuals. This kind of support can help refugee families to adapt to a new system of society and recapture a sense of coherence, including all three components that lead to coherence: comprehensibility, manageability and meaningfulness. More studies are needed to further investigate the thoughts, experiences and needs of various refugee families and how refugee receiving societies can give the most effective support.

Migration; Refugee children; Family therapy; Qualitative method