Violence, Suffering and Support: Congolese Forced Migrants’ Experiences of Psychosocial Services in Johannesburg

  • Dostin LakikaEmail author
  • Peter Kankonde
  • Annemiek Richters
Part of the Peace Psychology Book Series book series (PPBS, volume 24)


Millions of Congolese have been exposed to protracted wars, civil conflicts, multiple predatory and authoritarian regimes and state failure in the DRC. Those Congolese who migrated to South Africa to find safety have, similar to other African migrants in South Africa, not received a smooth reception and are often exposed to multiple forms of violence. The chapter describes and analyses the trajectories migrants go through to find help in coping with their suffering due to their traumatic experiences in the country of origin and in the host county. More specifically, it compares the effectiveness of the support services available for migrants as perceived by migrants themselves. Attention is given to the counselling services offered by an NGO (Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation or CSVR) and how migrants who consult this service value and compare it to other services. It was found that that respondents did not always know the purpose of counselling. They attended sessions primarily with the hope that by doing so they could find ways out of their socio-economic plights and receive referrals to urgently needed medical services. In their search of support, migrants did not choose where to go and the kind of support to access, but were instead navigated through different support structures by a network of NGOs. Religion played a significant role in coping with stressful living conditions and counselling became helpful in cases where CSVR’s counsellors incorporated their clients’ religious beliefs into their approach. This study suggests a holistic counselling approach which includes social, political, economic and cultural dimensions of their clients’ suffering and adapts to the beliefs of those who access it.


Host Country Traumatic Event Asylum Seeker Counselling Service Counselling Process 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. American Psychological Society. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.Google Scholar
  2. Bhugra, D., & Becker, M. A. (2005). Migration, cultural bereavement and cultural identity. World Psychiatry, 4(1), 18–24.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  3. Bracken, B., Giller, J., & Summerfield, D. (1995). Psychological responses to war and atrocity: The limitation of current concepts. Social Science and Medicine, 40(8), 1073–1082.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Courtois, C. A. (2008). Complex trauma, complex reactions: Assessment and treatment. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, Policy, S(1), 86–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Daigneault, I., Cyr, M., & Tourigny, M. (2007). Exploration of recovery trajectories in sexually abused adolescents. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 14(1), 165–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Eisenbruch, M. (1991). From post-traumatic stress disorder to cultural bereavement: Diagnosis of Southeast Asian refugees. Social Science and Medicine, 33(6), 673–80.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ellis, S., & Haar, G. (1998). Religion and politics in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 36(2), 175–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Fontana, A., & Rosenheck, R. (2004). Trauma, change in strength of religious faith, and mental health service use among veterans treated for PTSD. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 192(9), 579–584.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gottlieb, N., Filc, D., & Davidovitch, N. (2012). Medical humanitarianism, human rights and political advocacy: The case of the Israeli Open Clinic. Social Science & Medicine, 74(6), 839–845.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hamber, B., & Wilson, R. A. (2002). Symbolic closure through memory, reparation and revenge in post-conflict societies. Journal of Human Rights, 1(1), 35–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Lakika, D. M. (2011). Understanding illness and treatment seeking behaviour among Congolese migrants in Johannesburg. MA Thesis. University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.Google Scholar
  12. Lie, B. (2002). A 3-year follow-up study of psychosocial functioning and general symptoms in settled refugees. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 106(6), 415–25.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Lykes, M. B., & Mersky, M. (2006). Reparations and mental health: Psychosocial interventions towards healing, human agency, and rethreading social realities. In P. de Greiff (Ed.), The Handbook of Reparations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Mattis, J. S. (2002). Religion and spirituality in the meaning-making and coping experiences of African American women: A qualitative analysis. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26(4), 309–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Menjivar, C. (2002). The ties that heal: Guatemalan immigrant women’s networks and medical treatment. International Migration Review, 36(2), 437–466.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Okello, E. S., & Neema, S. (2007). Explanatory models and help-seeking behavior: Pathways to psychiatric care among patients admitted for depression in Mulago hospital, Kampala, Uganda. Qualitative Health Research, 17(1), 13–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Olafsdottir, S., & Pescosolido, B. (2009). Drawing the line: The cultural cartography of utilization recommendations for mental health problems. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 50, 228–244.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Palmary, I. (2005). Engendering wartime conflict: Women and war trauma (Violence and transition series). Johannesburg, South Africa: CSVR.Google Scholar
  19. Palmer, D., & Ward, K. (2007). ‘Lost’: Listening to the voices and mental health needs of forced migrants in London. Medicine, Conflict and Survival, 23(3), 198–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Park, C. L. (2005). Religion as a meaning-making framework in coping with life stress. Journal of Social Issues, 61(4), 707–729.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Peglidou, A. (2010). Therapeutic itineraries of ‘depressed’ women in Greece: Power relationships and agency in therapeutic pluralism. Anthropology & Medicine, 17(1), 41–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Peres, J., Moreira-Almeida, A., Nasello, A., & Koenig, H. (2007). Spirituality and resilience in trauma victims. Journal of Religion and Health, 46(3), 343–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Robbins, J. (2004). The globalisation of Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity. Annual Review of Anthropology, 33, 117–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Rose, G. (1985). Sick Individuals and Sick Populations. International Journal of Epidemiology, 14(1), 32–38.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Schweitzer, R., Greenslade, J., & Kagee, A. (2007). Coping and resilience in refugees from the Sudan: A narrative account. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 41(3), 282–288.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Sideris, T. (2003). War, gender and culture: Mozambican women refugees. Social Science & Medicine, 56, 713–724.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Thomas, F. (2010). Transnational health and treatment networks: Meaning, value and place in health seeking amongst Southern African migrants in London. Health & Place, 16(3), 606–612.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Van der Veer, G. (1998). Counselling and therapy with refugees and victims of trauma. Psychological problems of victims of war torture and repression. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  29. Vearey, J., Nunez, L., & Lakika, D. (2011). Exploring the psychosocial and health rights of forced migrants in Johannesburg (Research report), Johannesburg, South Africa: CSVR/ACMS.Google Scholar
  30. WHO (2003). Social determinants of health. The solid facts. In R. Wilkinson & M. Marmot (Eds.) Second Edition ed. Geneva, Switzerland: International Centre for Health and Society.Google Scholar
  31. Young, A. (1995). The harmony of illusions. Inventing post-traumatic stress disorder. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dostin Lakika
    • 1
    Email author
  • Peter Kankonde
    • 1
  • Annemiek Richters
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS)University of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of Public Health and Primary CareLeiden University Medical CenterLeidenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Amsterdam School for Social Science ResearchUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations