Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Steven Vannoy

Second Advisor

Amy Cook

Third Advisor

Usha Tummala-Narra


The ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq has caused many to flee those countries to seek asylum in foreign countries. These refugees’ prolonged exposure to trauma in the war zone, during their flight, and in host countries, necessitates the understanding of the complexity of refugee experience with a particular focus on refugee mental health and resilience. Importantly, the study examined their resilience in the face of prolonged traumatizing experiences. To date, pre-flight experiences, such as the adverse effects of prior torture and trauma, have been the major focus of researchers. Research on resilience and protective factors among refugees is fairly recent. The proposed study was to investigate the traumatizing experiences and resilience in the pre-migration, flight, and post-migration phases among recent Iraqi and Syrian refugees residing in Massachusetts. The participants were 94 Iraqi and Syrian refugees residing in the New England area (Mage = 38.5 years, SD = 12.8, Range: 19–76 years). Quantitative data were collected through surveys measuring trauma exposure, posttraumatic stress, and resilience. I utilized a series of hierarchical and multiple regression analyses. Preliminary analyses indicated pre-and post-migration stressors predict PTSD but not CPTSD. However, discrimination predicted only CPTSD. Post-migration stress exposure emerged as a significant moderator between pre-migration stress exposure and psychological distress (i.e., PTSD). Overall, the findings provided support for the cumulative impact of exposure to trauma from pre-migration to post-migration process upon refugees. Lastly, even though resilience was negatively related to posttraumatic distress including both PTSD and CPTSD, results did not yield support for the moderator role of resilience between trauma exposure and posttraumatic distress. Clinical implications are presented along with limitations of the study and future directions for research. The study may contribute to an ecological understanding of trauma and resilience with a particular focus on the racialization theory and a complex trauma model. Thus, a more nuanced understanding would inform policymakers and service providers to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of policies or services for refugees.


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