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Collective trauma among displaced populations in Northern Iraq: A case study evaluating the therapeutic interventions of the Free Yezidi Foundation


1 Assistante-doctorante, Institute of Psychology and Education, University of Neuchatel, Neuchatel, Switzerland
2 Clinical Psychologist, Free Yezidi Foundation, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Correspondence Address:
Gail Womersley,
University of Neuchatel, 1 Espace Louis-Agassiz, CH2000 Neuchatel
Switzerland
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/INTV.INTV_56_18

Yezidism arguably remains one of the most oppressed religions in Iraq, with the population historically confronted by many attempts at genocide. These atrocities have left many survivors displaced and affected by trauma, yet little research has been conducted on experiences of trauma among this population. In the context of an internal evaluation of the Free Yezidi Foundation’s mental health intervention in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, 200 Yezidi women were screened at the beginning and end of a six-month mental health intervention using the World Health Organization (WHO)-5 well-being scale and the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire (HTQ). Qualitative data were obtained from sixteen focus group discussions (FGDs) among service users of the project as well as six in-depth qualitative interviews conducted with members of the project team. The results of the WHO-5 indicate a 74% increase in self-reported well-being among service users who completed the programme. According to the results of the HTQ, the baseline prevalence rate of posttraumatic stress disorder was 81.25%, which decreased to 45% upon completion of the programme. A qualitative analysis of interviews and FGDs highlighted that a significant impact on mental health were collective, multiple losses and separations (including family members who sought refuge abroad), the fact that not all Yezidi held in captivity have returned, fear of ongoing attacks and daily stressors related to poor living conditions. The results highlight the substantial impact of the political, legal and sociocultural environment on both the prevalence of trauma as well as processes of psychosocial rehabilitation. The implications for interventions include utilising socioecological frameworks for research and practice, engaging in advocacy and establishing agendas for mental health practice and psychosocial support that emphasises individual and collective self-determination.

Key implications for practice
  • Utilising eco-social frameworks for research and practice
  • Engaging in political advocacy as part of MHPSS interventions
  • Establishing agendas for mental health practice that emphasise individual and collective self-determination
  • Addressing the social, cultural and political perspectives of trauma as part of MHPSS interventions
  • Implementing interdisciplinary approaches to rehabilitation from trauma.


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    -  Womersley G
    -  Arikut-Treece Y
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