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Medical Approach to the Management of Traumatized Refugees


Journal of Psychiatric Practice®: March 2016 - Volume 22 - Issue 2 - p 76–83
doi: 10.1097/PRA.0000000000000135

Refugees are a highly traumatized and culturally diverse group of patients who present many clinical challenges. Refugees have a high prevalence of traumas from torture, ethnic cleansing, and the effects of long civil wars. The most common diagnoses associated with the effects of such traumas are posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or PTSD with comorbid depression; however, psychosis and neurocognitive disorders are also common. For those with PTSD, a suggested treatment approach is long-term supportive psychotherapy with drug treatment directed at reducing the most disruptive symptoms, such as insomnia, nightmares, and irritability or psychosis. The author recommends a sedative tricyclic antidepressant, clonidine or prazosin, and aripiprazole as a useful combination of medications to provide rapid relief. In addition to PTSD, long-term studies indicate a high prevalence of diabetes and hypertension in traumatized refugees. It is therefore important to perform a thorough evaluation for these disorders that includes the measurement of blood pressure and a blood test for diabetes. When managed with such a medical approach, refugees are generally accepting of psychiatric treatment and can obtain relief from the symptoms associated with the massive trauma and losses they have experienced.

KINZIE: Professor of Psychiatry, Intercultural Psychiatric Program, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR

The author declares no conflicts of interest.

Please send correspondence to: J. David Kinzie, MD, Intercultural Psychiatric Program, Oregon Health & Science University, 3633 SE 35th Pl, Portland, OR 97202 (e-mail:

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