Frankfurt conference on „Migration and trauma – effects on the next generation“

They have experienced terrible things: Bombing raids, death and abuse, an often perilous escape and a not always friendly reception in Germany. Many refugees are traumatised, especially the children. They need professional help. How to approach this is the topic of a conference taking place on 4-6 March at the Bockenheim Campus of Goethe University. The conference is open to teachers and volunteers as well as scientists.

The topic of this international conference is „Migration and trauma – effects on the next generation“. The conference is being organised by the Sigmund Freud Institute, Goethe University, the interdisciplinary research centre „Individual Development and Adaptive Education of Children at Risk“ (IDeA) and the University of Stockholm. „Psychoanalysis today and current empirical attachment research have extensive knowledge of both conceptual as well as preventative and therapeutic approaches to dealing with traumatised people“, according to the organiser of the conference, Prof. Dr. Marianne Leuzinger-Bohleber, Managing Director of the Sigmund Freud Institute. This knowledge formed the theoretical foundation for five prevention projects, which have been offered since 2010 to over one thousand difficult to reach families with migration backgrounds in precarious social situations. These projects focused on early prevention for so-called „at-risk children“.

Many studies show how important it is to provide basic help to traumatised people as quickly as possible, in order to mitigate the long term consequences for them and the following generations. „Traumatisation is the result of experiences which expose people to extreme feelings of despair, powerlessness and helplessness, usually combined with a fear of death. Basic trust is also lost. Those affected can no longer rely on anything; not on one another and not on themselves“, Leuzinger-Bohleber explains. „This is why traumatised people are particularly vulnerable to migration experiences and to renewed experiences of passivity and powerlessness in the reception centres.“ Recent studies show that traumatisation also has a lasting influence on stress regulation, which is explained in several presentations at the conference. This affects early parenthood in particular and hence shapes the next generation as well.

Mitigating the danger of traumatisation through educational, socio-pedagogical and therapeutic support is a pressing humanitarian task for many professions at this time. The work of the different professions is highly interdisciplinary, as reflected by the research performed in this field in Frankfurt. „Our research centre „Individual Development and Adaptive Education of Children at Risk“, or IDeA, which in addition to Goethe University also includes the German Institute for International Educational Research and the Sigmund Freud Institute, offers outstanding opportunities in this regard“, emphasises Prof. Dr. Sabine Andresen, Professor of Educational Studies at Goethe University.

Discussions at the conference – in German and English – will centre around how the knowledge, which has been and is currently being gained through projects in locations such as Frankfurt, Oslo and Belgrade, can be applied in order to help traumatised children in different educational establishments, from nursery to secondary school. Initial experiences gathered at the refugee clinic at the Sigmund-Freud Institute and the „Michaelis-Dorf“ pilot project in a reception centre in Darmstadt will also be presented. This project was started at the end of January and is currently the only one of its kind in Germany. It is managed jointly by the psychoanalyst and professor for Clinical Psychology Marianne Leuzinger-Bohleber and the professor for Educational Sciences Sabine Andresen. In Darmstadt, students, young scientists and volunteers are working side-by-side to support child refugees. Andresen explains: „It is especially important for children and young people to experience the reception centre as a child-friendly place from the start. They want to feel that they are safe there and can contribute their skills. This sort of place has to be created through educational and leisure programmes, opportunities for participation and open-minded adults.“

The conference will take place on Friday (March 4th) at 8:15 pm (Campus Bockenheim, Hörsaalgebäude, Hörsaal VI) complemented by a public lecture by Prof. Dr. Vera King, who in March will take the place of Prof. Dr. Rolf Haubl as Acting Director of the Sigmund Freud Institute as well as taking over as Professor of Social Psychology at Goethe University. She will speak about „Transgenerational transmission in the context of adolescence and migration“.

This conference continues the tradition of the Joseph Sandler Research Conferences, which have been held in Frankfurt on the first weekend in March for the past eight years. Sandler and his wife opened psychoanalysis up to increased dialogue with the other sciences during the 1990s, and organised this annual conference with that purpose in mind.

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