Aug. 30, 1999 Pushing people to talk about past traumas may not be the best way of dealing with them, says a University of Toronto psychiatrist in a new book documenting a 10-year study of Canada's original boat people.
Following initial years of hardship, Canada's boat people -- over 60,000 refugees from Southeast Asia who came to Canada between 1979 and 1981 -- were able to effectively cope with stress by temporarily suspending all relationships with the past. Today, they are more likely to be employed than their Canadian-born counterparts, are less likely to abuse alcohol and are in better overall mental health than average Canadians.
"The fact that most of these refugees are thriving and have remained in good mental health despite the traumas of flight and exile is a source of wonder," says Dr. Morton Beiser, author of Strangers at the Gate. "This is a warning to therapists and counsellors that it may be harmful to encourage people to deal with past traumas before they are ready."
Despite ultimate success, however, Beiser says refugees could adapt more quickly if Canada offered better job training, social support and language programs. It is incomprehensible that these people have to wait 10 years in order to reach their optimal levels in society, says Beiser, David Crombie professor of culturalism and health at U of T and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and director of the Toronto Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement.
This study was funded by Health Canada and the Department of Multiculturalism. Strangers at the Gate is published by U of T Press.
CONTACT: Steven de Sousa
U of T Public Affairs
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