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The need for trauma-sensitive sport programmes


The need for trauma-sensitive sport programmes

Clemens Ley answers the latest call for articles on the question of whether sport can be part of the solution to the refugee crisis.

Conducting sport and exercise with refugees is very important for promoting health and inclusion. However, while some refugees seem to manage the situation and participate in the general sport system or in more specific sport and inclusion programmes, others may not cope with the traumatic experiences they have experienced and may be excluded from such opportunities.

We should interrogate whether the current sport system and programmes are:

  • Taking into account sufficiently and adequately the experiences and situation of the refugees (including also mental health and social-cultural background)
  • Providing real access and opportunities to participates (accessible to all)
  • Guaranteeing a “safe place”

“Movi Kune – moving together” with war and torture survivors

In 2013, the University of Vienna (sport and exercise psychology department) and the Care Centre for Torture and War Survivors Hemayat started the project “Movi Kune – moving together” to address the health challenges of refugees through sport and exercise, and to address the traumatic experiences the participants were and are suffering. While the trauma is memorised in the body, sport and exercise are good starting points for therapy, however trauma-triggers also have to be considered and care taken.

While observing great improvements, we also face major challenges. For example, after the participation in the programme, we still see major difficulties with inclusion in the current sport system. We would like to highlight some of the aspects that we consider important for conducting sport with refugees:

  • To take into account personal experiences and health challenges (anxiety, depression, etc.)
  • To guarantee a safe space and to consider possible trauma-triggers (e.g. body contact, difficult social situations, materials, etc.), as well as social-cultural and gender issues
  • To foster and activate their own resources
  • To promote active, self-determined and empowering participation (against passivity and imposed idleness), including taking part in decision-making and facilitation
  • To facilitate meaningful and positive experiences, especially of self-efficacy, control and safety
  • To network with other professionals and programmes, building a bridge from therapy to inclusion through sport

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[This article has been edited by the Operating Team]


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Clemens Ley


Wednesday, October 14, 2015 - 00:00