Volume 27 (2016)

Issue 3

Special Issue on Migration


Human Systems has dedicated its 3rd issue of 2016 to Migration, an area so crucial for systemic scientists and practitioners to holistically study in depth and develop practices that will address the needs that emerge. Migration has today become a major transforming force worldwide.

In Europe, the flow of migration is now an ongoing, yet unpredictable, phenomena. Persecution, conflict and poverty forced over 1 million people to flee to Europe in 2015, many came seeking safety for themselves and their families, risking their lives and facing a treacherous journey.

The number of people residing in an EU Member State with citizenship of a nonmember country on the 1st of January, 2015 was 19.8 million, representing 3.9% of the EU-18 population. This number has risen significantly since then (statistics yet to be released).

Immigrants face multiple challenges in acculturating within their new dominant or existing society. Migration has been shown to be one of the most disorganizing human experiences, entailing penetrating changes of social and self identity. On the other hand, citizens of receiving countries must accommodate to the influence of migrants and theirs cultures. Immigration, then, is a source of personal and cultural tension. A collaborative and co-evolutionary process of integration involving both the migrant and the native population is understandably essential, so that the social system can be enriched by diversity.

Our main intention in creating this issue of Human Systems is to open a dialogue on the psycho-social consequences of migration and their implications for systemic therapists and practitioners. We aim to continue the conversations…


Ariana & Jeff Faris begin this issue by providing their observations and learnings from their ‘on the ground’ experience of the unprecedented refugee crisis in Greece, more specifically as it was manifested on the island of Lesbos and at the port of Piraeus. Vivid examples of the different responses to meeting the needs of migrants are weaved throughout this paper – responses that illustrate the humanitarian aid provisions in these two contexts, the former marked by the rescue of people on the move, the latter characterized by people stuck in limbo. Through the lens of the systemic perspective, the authors examine the way in which complex symptoms evolve in such overwhelming, unpredictable emergencies and go on to explore how ideas from complexity theory, tight-fit versus loose-fit models and leadership styles that obstruct or foster the resolution of such problems. They argue in favor of an approach to human crisis that supports emergent interventions based on the utilization of feedback over an approach that enforces structural solutions from the top down.

We then move to Italy, another European country undergoing rapid and expanding migration. From her experience as a systemic therapist and practitioner, Umberta Telfener addresses the question of the possible conditions required when working with immigrants: how we know what we think we know about clients, their culture, their relationship with us during the process of counseling and how the encounter of different minds, hearts and sensibilities unfolds within a shared context. Telfener outlines an ethical stance in praxis and, step-by-step, describes the principles by which this stance is activated. Again, here, as in our previous paper, action that emerges from the relationship of client-consultant, from the mutual encounter of different cultures, and thus, action that is co-constructed is primed. This ethical practice discards a pre-conceived, rigid identity of the professional in favor of an open, on-going de-constructing and reconstructing identity in the process of the encounter. Telfener’s proposals are enriched with two case examples and by her specific recommendations with which she closes her paper.

In the next article, Dzmitry Karpuk and Rupinder Kaur take us to the UK where they have worked systemically to develop recommendations for concrete actions to improve the mental health services provided to refugees and asylum seekers in the city of Leeds. They illustrate the use of Systemic Action Research methodology to establish active dialogue between the refugee clients, the mental health professional and the commissioners. The authors describe the personal and professional development of the key systems involved and refer to the positive effect their project had on facilitating collaborative multi-agency interventions and the formation of an evidential base for a new model of working integratively with the complexities of the symptom.

Lorena Cavalieri, Director of the Silvano Andolfi Foundation in Rome, in her paper focuses on a role that has today become crucial in the field of working effectively with migrants – the Cultural Mediator. Cavalieri describes cultural mediation and its application as one of the major elements in facilitating the process of migrants’ integration and addresses the crucial function of the communication and the relationship between immigrants and institutions. She notes that in the last thirty years migration has undergone a radical change in that it’s structural characteristic has been transformed from individual to family integration. According to Cavalieri the integration of ‘new citizens’ is possible today only if we take into account the needs of those who emigrated, not just of the individual, such as the worker’s rights and duties, but most importantly immigrant’s family values. Also, cultural and religious traditions need to be acknowledged and honored by the institutions and the social context of the host country. Cultural mediation is perceived as comprising a psychological and socio-cultural function that suggests possible changes to providers within departments departments of institutions, with consideration to the specific characteristics and cultural differences of the consumers. Cultural mediators in public services and institutions thus provide a ‘bridge’ between the immigrants, on one hand, and the public services and the society on the other. Cavalieri goes on to sketch a profile of the cultural mediator and refers to the training that is needed, so as to foster effectiveness – that is, the development of specific skills that will enable him/her to relate in a balanced, unbiased manner without enmeshment and to avoid possible coalitions, either with the migrant or with the institution.

Máire Stedman’s article focuses on unaccompanied refugee young people and the social and cultural construction of their identity. Stedman explains that young refugee people who find themselves in a totally unfamiliar context that challenges many of as adults and establishing themselves in a new as well as very different environment, can potentially lose their sense of ability to ‘become something’ due to the constraints of new societal stories, which present them in a negative light. These dominant narratives, which exist in relation to refugees and asylum seekers, can influence their sense of agency to mould their own narrative and with it, their confidence to develop particular storylines producing a sense of self. Refugee young people have left their familiar cultural context, which offers particular possibilities for being, many times quite different to those of Western ones. The cultural context from which young refugees have come and, therefore, their culturally learned normative patterns and their blueprint for becoming is the template or sense of self with which they come into therapy. In such circumstances, Stedman finds that the therapists’ responsibility is to serve as a bridge and highlights the importance for the therapist to be open and draw on sources of knowledge for the young refugee’s culture.

We continue to explore identity in the next paper, this time on that which is depicted in the plays written by Greek-Australian migrants. Eleni Tsefala traces the historic process of Greek migration to Australia and compares aspects of first and second generations. She interweaves this process with observations on the stories and characters that emerge in the various plays over time.

Along with the aim of investigating the personal migration history of migrant playwrights and the exploration of a possible collective identity that emerges from their works, Tsefala deals with the organization and implementation of innovative actions in order to explore the usefulness of the function of theater as an education and pedagogical tool towards an inter-cultural and intra-cultural understanding.

Salvatore D’ Amore, from Belgium comes in to direct our attention to the theoretical and clinical aspects relevant to working with new families formed from migration. These families are seen as continually facing contextual losses. In psychotherapy, D’Amore approaches these families as ‘grieving systems’ whose identity seems to be built on loss of the feeling of belonging to a family, a culture and a religion. By way of a clinical illustration, D’Amore shows how one function of a symptom is to symbolically recall loss from transitions in relationships, a funtion that is echoed in further tri-generational losses. He suggests that: “We must re-design and re-build family relationships out of break-up and losses, if we want new families’ unresolved mourning to be properly worked-out”.

We intentionally gave the position of the last article in this Human Systems Special Issues on Migration to the paper by Chiara Santin. This is a more personally written narrative that reveals the fine threads of migration and emotional homelessness.

Santin very delicately shares her extended family’s story and elucidates how a felt sense of emotional homelessness is inherited inter-generationally. She highlights that untold stories of refugees, dislocated from the security of a ‘home’ and a familiar culture, may bring forth our own stories of pain and shame, stories that we, as professionals, need to recognize and re-story if we are to be helpful in our role.

Kyriaki Polychroni
Joint Editor

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AuthorTitlePagesAbstractPurchase this Article
Kyriaki Polychroni Editorial 184-186 Free Fulltext Access Free Fulltext Access 
Ariana Faris & Jeff Faris  Complexity and Humanitarian Crisis of Mass Migration in Greece: First Hand Experience and Analysis in Lesvos and Piraeus 187-199 Access Abstract (Free) Access Fulltext 
Umberta Telfener Working with Migrants in Italy: An Ethical Practice Based on Respect 201-216 Access Abstract (Free) Access Fulltext 
Dzmitry Karpuk & Rupinder Kaur Integrating Multiple Realities: A Systemic Action Research in the Context of Mental Health Systems Refugees and Asymul Seekers in Leeds 217-234 Access Abstract (Free) Access Fulltext 
Lorena Cavalieri Cultural mediation in Italy: An Encounter between Cultures 235-250 Access Abstract (Free) Access Fulltext 
Máire Stedman Unaccompanied Refugee Young People: The Social and Cultural Construction of Identity 251-260 Access Abstract (Free) Access Fulltext  
Eleni Tsefala International Migration: Causes and effects of complexities, conflicts and challenges towards an “Identity” 261-274 Access Abstract (Free) Access Fulltext 
Salvatore D'Amore When New Families Function as Grieving Systems: Clinical Implications 275-288 Access Abstract (Free) Access Fulltext 
Chiara Santin Migration as Intergenerational Emotional Homelessness: A Personal Story 289-294 Access Abstract (Free) Access Fulltext 
Translated Abstracts Bulgarian, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish 295-394 Free Access Free Access 
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