A brief transdiagnostic psychological intervention for Afghan asylum seekers and refugees in Austria: a randomized controlled trial Academic Article uri icon

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  • BACKGROUND: Afghan refugees often face hardship and traumatic experiences before, during, and after migration and frequently suffer from mental health burdens. Evidence based psychological treatments for refugees mostly focus on symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however, refugees often suffer from a variety of general health problems as well as depression and anxiety. We thus aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of a transdiagnostic psychological intervention. OBJECTIVE: To investigate the effectiveness of an adapted version of Problem Management Plus (aPM+) delivered by mental health professionals to adult Afghan refugees and asylum seekers. METHODS: We randomly allocated 88 Afghan refugees either to aPM+ in addition to treatment as usual (aPM+/TAU) or TAU alone. APM+ comprises of six weekly 90-minute individual sessions including strategies of stress management, problem solving, behavioural activation, strengthening social support and either anger regulation or increasing self-efficacy. The primary outcome was general health (GHQ-28) post intervention. Secondary outcome measures included distress by PMLD, Complex PTSD symptoms, quality of life, self-identified problems, and integration. RESULTS: Attrition was high: 42% of the randomized participants did not participate in the post-treatment assessment. A repeated measures per-protocol (completers only) ANCOVA evidenced a significant group × timepoint interaction for GHQ total scores [F(1, 47) =  14.80, p < .001, partial η2 = 0.24]. Post-hoc analyses showed significantly lower symptoms in the aPM+/TAU arm (n = 26) as compared to the TAU arm (n = 25) for the GHQ total scores (dz  = 1.04). Most secondary outcomes significantly improved in the aPM+/TAU arm, but not in the TAU arm. CONCLUSION: APM+ was effective in reducing general health problems in Afghan refugees and might be considered as a first-line intervention. High drop-out rate limit the interpretations of our results, where future investigations should focus on possibilities to reduce these rates.Trial registration: Uniform Trial Number identifier: U1111-1226-3285. HIGHLIGHTS: Refugees' mental health can be strengthened with a brief psychological intervention that also focuses on skills in the context of post-migration stressors.High drop-out rates are a major challenge for future research and delivery of psychological interventions as part of health care systems to refugees and asylum seekers.


  • Knefel, Matthias
  • Kantor, Viktoria
  • Weindl, Dina
  • Schiess-Jokanovic, Jennifer
  • Nicholson, Andrew
  • Verginer, Lucia
  • Schäfer, Ingo
  • Lueger-Schuster, Brigitte

publication date

  • July 29, 2022