A high percentage of refugees will have faced traumatic experiences in their home country, including torture, rape and witnessing loved ones being killed or abused. Similarly, many will have faced traumatic experiences along the way, including seeing people close to them drown, and are at mercy of smugglers who demand a high fee and sexual ‘favours’.    

Trauma can have a profound effect on experiences of self, and relationships with others. Faced with a perceived harmful event we tend to react with a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system which primes us to fight, flee or if neither is possible, freeze: the capacity to think becomes paralyzed in trying to reduce the unmanageable quantities of excitation that pour through the protective shield with which we tend to surround ourselves. This is particularly likely when age, size or other vulnerabilities mean one is unable to move or it would be dangerous to do so.   

The memory of the trauma is held in a specific memory network and is therefore not being integrated into one’s long term memory stores (Joseph, Williams and Yule, 1997).

Lack of understanding about physiological responses (for example the adrenalin rush and increased heart rate) adds to the terror potentially traumatic situations evoke. The magnitude of the event informs the likelihood of developing symptoms of PTSD, as do peri-traumatic factors (including the immediate threat, cognitions, fear and dissociation at the time of the event); appraisal processes; what happens after the event (including the responses of others); whether one has had opportunities to discharge the energy that has been built up; coping indices including social support; personality; and the emotions driving the on-going appraisal and reappraisal of the event (Hunter, Noble, Lewis et al, 2015). Moreover, current experiences of threat, including encounters in refugee camps can trigger responses that relate to the past, resulting in intrusive emotions, sensory phenomena, autonomic arousal and physical reactions (Fisher, 2014).  

RTI was set up with the aim of working towards reducing the potentially traumatic consequences of being a refugee, enhancing their wellbeing, building their resilience and enabling successful transition and ultimate integration into their new communities.