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The Vital Role of Mental Health Professionals in Asylum Cases

Applying for asylum in the United States can be a strenuous process for both applicants and immigration attorneys. Mental health professionals with expertise in asylum law and refugee trauma can make important contributions to such cases. Not only can mental health professionals provide diagnostic information that may support applicants’ claims, but they can also evaluate how culture and mental health symptoms relate to perceived deficits in credibility or delays in asylum applications. They can define mental health treatment needs and estimate the possible effects of repatriation on mental health. Mental health professionals can also provide supportive functions for clients as they prepare for testimony. Finally, in a consultative role, mental health experts can help immigration attorneys improve their ability to elicit trauma narratives from asylum applicants safely and efficiently and to enhance their resilience in response to vicarious trauma and burnout symptoms arising from work with asylum seekers.

Evaluation of asylum applicants by a mental health professional with expertise in the field of refugee trauma can be of particular value in the presentation of a case. Such evaluations can provide medical opinions regarding the client’s mental disorder, the implications of which bear on the client’s credibility, delay in application, culturally informed emotional expression, treatment needs, and mental health consequences of deportation. Mental health professionals can also be advisors to attorneys in the preparation of clients for the stressful process of testifying for asylum.



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