The Best Practice – Project Serene in Finland

The Southwest Finland Association for Mental Health is a non-governmental organization, the aim of which is to promote mental health. Serene project (2012-2016) was a developmental project for different mental health support systems and tools for traumatized refugees. The developmental project has since ended, but the Serene work continues at The Turku Crisis Center. The purpose of Serene work is to further develop, spread and implement the created supportive methods. Serene’s work is so far the only awarded and chosen best practice in Finland in the field of psychosocial support of refugees and asylum seekers.

The Serene activities are:

Psychoeducation on mental adjustment and mental health in small groups


To provide information on mental adjustment and mental health in connection with moving to a new country.

The information provided in groups gives tools to understand and manage the challenging psychological situation related to integration. The meetings for people with a refugee background decrease the stigma related to mental health issues and can lower the threshold for seeking help when necessary.


Who can use the model

Professionals in the field of social and health care and education, for example psychologists, social workers, instructors, public health nurses or employees of organizations, who work with refugees and those with a refugee background.


Target group

Integrating newcomers at the early stage, e.g. those who have arrived as quota refugees or asylum seekers.


The central idea behind the model


The intensity of the mental adjustment process and delayed activation of traumatic experiences may surprise and scare many who arrive as refugees. Information received early on these natural reactions relieves and helps to understand one’s own experiences and utilize different coping methods. The purpose of the psychoeducational events is to diminish the fear and prejudice related to the theme of mental health, evoke discussion, provide information on the healthcare in Finland and lower the threshold for seeking help and thus prevent problems. The participants receive information on issues related to mental well-being and the opportunity to discuss the similarities and differences between the systems of meaning in Finland and the country of origin.

The fact that the information events are organized for small groups is central in terms of functionality, it is easier for the participants to take part in the discussion as the atmosphere at the event is safe.


The central actors required for the implementation, their tasks and the necessary resources

Organizing an opening information event on mental adjustment and mental health requires a team leader who is familiar with the theme and materials. Orientation with the theme can also take place by participating in opening information events led by an employee already familiar with the topic.

The opening information events require the use of an interpreter. A peaceful room is required.


Description of the model

The mental adjustment of newcomers

Discussion in small groups on what kind of challenges are often encountered by people who have moved to Finland. Additional discussion on what kind of means help coping with these challenges.

Mental and physical health

Discussion in small groups on what good mental health means and how you can increase your own mental and physical well-being.

The participants also receive information on where to find help in different problem situations.

The opening information events and discussions according to the themes are carried out in small groups of 4–8 participants. It is recommended that the opening information events are organized separately for men and women. The opening information events on mental adjustment and mental health comprise of two meetings, which can be arranged in consecutive weeks. This enables a process-like quality: between the events, the participants have time to contemplate on the discussed themes and they can be returned to in the second meeting.

The created material enables organizing the opening info events easily with little orientation. A PowerPoint which includes pictures makes following the themes easier and animates the event. A summary in text format has been created for the team leader. Based on the summary, going through the information content is easy. The material takes interpreting work into account. The info events also include small, bodily stabilizing exercises, which may help to regulate alertness and increase the safety of the situation.

For example for families who have arrived as quota refugees, the opening information can be organized for men and women in turns: altogether four meetings, two for men and two for women. This facilitates childcare thus that the children are with the other parent during the information event. Please pay attention to guiding the participants in the opening information events. The best way is to include the opening information events on mental adjustment and mental health as a natural part of the integration package, which does not render participation stigmatized but belongs to everyone.


Feedback from the events by Turku Region Crisis Centre has been collected orally from the participants and the participating cooperation partners.

Results and impact

The participants of the opening info events on mental adjustment and mental health, organized by Turku Region Crisis Centre, have considered the events good and necessary, even if they had no idea of what was coming beforehand. Organizing the info events has been considered an appreciative gesture. There have been wishes that the groups would continue. In addition, organizing the information events separately for men and women has been considered important, as this has made the discussion more uninhibited. According to the comments of the participants, the threshold for seeking help has lowered.

The opening information events organised around a language group also increase community-orientation and support the creation of the participants’ social support networks. In small groups the participants experience that in their community, they can also discuss issues related to mental well-being.

Dissemination and embedding

The materials are available from the Serene project and can be downloaded through Serene’s dropbox page:

Orientation with organizing the opening information events on the themes of mental adjustment and mental health can be completed with the created material. The opening information events can also be implemented in cooperation with other local actors. 

Challenges & problems

The challenge in implementing the opening information events is that the refugees arrive at different times and come from different language groups. The person responsible for the opening information events should thus coordinate and put together suitable groups of the new arrivals. People who live at different sides of a town or municipality may need help with arriving at the location and finding it.

More information: Psychologist Antti Klemettilä:

Description of other Serene Activities and Methods

Body and Mind groups

Group activity promoting the well-being of body and mind for those with residence permit. A low-threshold support form for refugees who are in integration stage, experience stress or post-traumatic symptoms and/or come from difficult circumstances. The objective of the group is to learn to identify, understand and reduce own stress and post-traumatic symptoms. The aim is to learn to influence one’s own physical and mental well-being and offer experiences of positive social connection. The Body and Mind group promotes everyday functioning skills and integration and prevents marginalization and social exclusion. 

Functional, mental health supporting group activities for reception centres

Nature Group
to support mental health


Art Workshop
to increase the sense of security

Relaxation Groups
in participants’ native languages

Mental health themed Kick-off events for reception centres and quota refugees

Survival methods of asylum seekers in a crisis

Stress management of asylum seekers

Adaptation: stages and emotions in immigration

Mental and physical health

Relaxation techniques and exercises in different languages

(Finnish, English, Arabic, Kurdish (Sorani), Persian, Dari, Somali). The Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Breathing Exercise and Safe Place Exercise can be listened to via the YouTube channel of the Turku Crisis Centre (in Finnish Turun Kriisikeskus) or downloaded from the website (see below).


Serene psychoeducation materials and relaxation techniques:


Languages: Finnish, English, Arabic, Kurdish (Sorani), Persian, Dari, Somali.

The tension-release exercise, relaxing breathing exercise and asylum exercise can be listened to via the YouTube channel of the Turku Crisis Centre. Search: Turun Kriisikeskus

Audio-exercises in different languages relating to trauma

On this page, you are provided with a number of relaxation techniques and exercise audio links in five languages including English, French, Arabic, Urdu and Farsi. Audio links are all in male and female voices that are intended to complement the work of the mental health practitioners with refugees and asylum seekers to aid stress management.