Research Case Study

Impact: Improving the lives of refugees around the world

  • Tagged under

    Economy, business, politics and society
    Global perspectives and challenges
    Health and wellbeing
    Human Rights

  • Lead Academic

    Professor Renos Papadopoulos

Renos Papadopoulos

An Essex academic is helping governments and aid organisations across the world improve the plight of refugees by revolutionising the way support services are provided. A crucial part of Professor Renos Papadopoulos’ work is providing training and support to those working on the frontline of disaster areas and war-torn countries.

Renos Papadopoulos
“It’s important to recognise refugees are entitled to protection. This is their right and their survival should not depend on the benevolence of others. We have to grasp the complexities of the situation. Blaming others, or passively hoping for the best, are no longer an option.” 
Professor Renos Papadopoulos Department  of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies

What was the challenge?

No one can have escaped the disturbing images of people abandoning their homes and risking their lives in a desperate bid to flee persecution and armed conflict. 

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) we are currently witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record, with one person being forcibly displaced every two seconds globally.

What did we do?

Professor Papadopoulos is the Director of our Centre for Trauma, Asylum and Refugees, which examines the reality of being a refugee, assessing conditions and suggesting improvements at refugee camps across the world. 
Over the course of several years, he has developed a unique approach to working with refugees and migrants, called Synergic Therapeutic Complexity (STC). This approach works as a collaboration between caregivers (e.g. aid organisations) and beneficiaries (the refugees or migrants). 

The approach provides a framework that Professor Papadopoulos has called the Adversity Grid. This provides a way for both parties to acknowledging the problems being faced, whilst at the same time recognising the strengths of the individual refugee – both those that were retained from before the adversity and new strengths gained as a result of dealing with adversity.

Professor Papadopoulos, who is based in our Department for Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies, believes helping refugees to value their own strengths and avoid seeing themselves as victims, is crucial to their long-term mental health and well-being. 
As he explained: “We must not treat refugees and other survivors of political violence, torture and disasters simply as victims.  
“They are often people with incredible resourcefulness. If anything, the mere fact they survive such hardships in their countries testifies to their resilience and potential. 
“Tapping into these strengths is crucial. These are not people who are likely to be a burden on their new country. On the contrary, given the right conditions they can thrive and assist the countries that take them in.” 

"Since we started collaborating with Professor Papadopoulos we have treated more than 4,000 refugees using his approach, and supported 1,700 refugees, who have experienced torture, under his expert supervision."
Nikos Gionakis Director, Babel Day centre

What have we changed?

Professor Papadopoulos’ common-sense approach to providing support services has influenced government policies, defined best practice for the United Nations and directly changed working practices of organisations and professionals bodies. His unique methodological approach has been adopted by 19 organisations in 12 countries throughout the world including Greece, Haiti, Mexico, Italy, Cyprus, Costa Rica, the UK and the countries of the Pacific Rim, and this has benefitted nearly 68,000 people.

Professor Papadopoulos’ long-standing association with the Babel Day Centre, a mental health unit supporting immigrants and refugees in Athens, has led to the setting up of a specialist multi-disciplinary team working with the survivors of torture. It includes psychologists, medical experts, social workers, and lawyers, all working to the principles he established. 

Nikos Gionakis, Director of the Babel Day Centre, said: "Since we started collaborating with Professor Papadopoulos we have treated more than 4,000 refugees using his approach, and supported 1,170 refugees, who have experienced torture, under his expert supervision, helping transform their lives. Based on his approach, whilst attending to their negative experiences, we do not overlook their retained strengths as well as the positive effects that their adversities activated in them."

Professor Papadopoulos has produced a training manual on the principles of STC. This has been published in English, Greek and Spanish. He has also been invited to join the Working Parties of the British Psychological Society and of the UN International Organisation for Migration to produce guidelines for practitioners working with migrants and refugees.