Review: Dorothée Ninck Gbeassor, Heidi Schär Sall, David Signer, Daniel Stutz & Elena Wertli (1999). Überlebenskunst in Übergangswelten: ethnopsychologische Betreuung von Asylsuchenden [The Art of Surviving in Transitional Worlds: Counselling for the Asylum Seekers]

Victoria Hegner


The book "Überlebenskunst in Übergangswelten" [The Art of Surviving in Transitional Worlds] is the first of two recent publications from the Ethnological-Psychological Centre in Zurich. The branch of the Asylum-Organisation of the Canton Zurich offers people who have fled their home country and who are now suffering from psychological crisis, inpatient or in-house or ambulatory treatment. The refugees physically escaped war, torture and/or imprisonment. However, they are unable to master the difficult process of migration and gradual arrival integration into the new, cultural and social contexts in Switzerland. As a result they have psychological problems, which make it impossible for them to live a "normal" everyday life. In three houses of the Centre, the so-called Foyers, they can find potential help. The migrants meet with a team of five ethno-psychologists, which uses ethnological and psychological approaches in order to understand the newcomers' problems. Within their work, the professionals of the Centre have developed a theoretical and methodological repertoire, which is of model-character not only within Switzerland but also for other countries. David SIGNER focuses in his article on characteristic conflicts and patterns of interaction in everyday life in the Foyers. The author emphasises the need to be open for all sorts of perception and communication. Furthermore, he sheds light on the various "pitfalls" in trying to create interaction. Elena WERTLI's text concentrates on refugees suffering from suicidal crisis. She explicates that a continued dialog is sometimes of more help for people in extreme psychological situations than a fast intervention. Daniel STUTZ' approach towards the problems of a Kurdish family is to first reconstruct the latter's individual life histories. The method enables him to explain the ongoing physical problems and the family's growing fear to get infected by bacteria as an expression of the couple's fear of anything that is "foreign" as well of their problems in getting used to the new social and cultural context. Heidi SCHÄR SALL discusses the Centre's method to institutionalise "transitional space" within its work. She describes the "heart" of the theoretical as well as methodological repertoire of the Foyers. The author also places emphasis on the problems of all forms of "culturalising" the migrants' behavioral standards. Moreover, Heidi SCHÄR SALL uses cultural characteristics that are within the norm- and value system of refugees. She hence romantisizes as well as "exoticises" the "Other". Finally, Dorothée NINCK GBEASSOR draws attention to the difficulties of children within exiled families where at least one family member suffers psychological problems. The text impresses by the author's sensitive analysis of the difficulties to intervene. Still, Dorothée NINCK GBEASSOR follows a rather "ethnisising" approach in her interpretation, e.g. allocating a "Roma Identity" in order to explain the behaviour of a family from Ex-Yugoslavia. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs020225


ethnopsychology; migration; asylum; supervision; transitional space; transitional phenomena


Copyright (c) 2002 Victoria Hegner

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