Contemporary Family Therapy

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 41–57 | Cite as

Establishing Therapeutic Dialogue with Refugee Families

  • Suzanne Guregård
  • Jaakko Seikkula
Original Paper


The article describes an investigation into dialogues between native Swedish psychotherapists and refugee families. Dialogue is needed to establish the therapeutic alliance, which is ultimately important for healing, whether of individual sickness or family crisis. However the development of dialogue is hindered by cross-cultural and language barriers. We concentrate on one aspect of research originally presented in a Doctoral Thesis by the first author, asking how culture and power differences, together with their resettlement in a strange country, affected meetings with refugee families, and how these problems were overcome; language and the presence of an interpreter are not discussed. A multi-perspective methodology was used in the original research, combining text analysis, review of video-recordings by the participating therapists, and interviews with the families. All these forms of investigation are drawn on here, but particularly text analysis. Significant hindrances to dialogue turn out to be differences in cultural values between refugee and therapist, their different power positions, and the refugee’s weariness and distrust of meetings. Strategies to minimise power differences are an essential aspect of the Finnish open dialogue approach, which turns out to be particularly relevant to such refugee meetings.


Refugee Dialogue Therapeutic alliance 



This research would not have been possible without the contribution of the four therapists in the Borås Clinic, and the therapist at the Gothenburg Crisis and Trauma Unit. Charlotte Burck at the Tavistock Clinic gave invaluable assistance as principal supervisor for the doctoral research. SG disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research and authorship of this article: The Southern Älvsborg’s Hospital provided time for doctoral studies and travelling expenses, while a research grant from South Älvsborg’s Research Unit covered most of the additional costs, including therapists time, transcription and therapists’ costs. Suzanne Guregård’s English husband made a valuable contribution to the wording of the article.

Conflict of interest

The authors declared no conflict of interests with respect to the authorship or publication of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.South Älvsborg HospitalBoråsSweden
  2. 2.Department of PsychotherapyUniversity of JyväskyläJyväskyläFinland

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