What is psychosocial support?

Watch the video: Kids, refugees, questions “What is it like to have no home?”
The Guardian, Guardian and Observer charity appeal 2016, Kids, refugees, questions: ‘What is it like to have no home?’- video, https://www.theguardian.com/ (02/10/2018).


The term ‘psychosocial’ refers to the dynamic relationship between the psychological dimension of a person and the social dimension of a person. The psychological dimension includes the internal, emotional and thought processes, feelings and reactions, and the social dimension includes relationships, family and community network, social values and cultural practices. ‘Psychosocial support’ refers to the actions that address both psychological and social needs of individuals, families and communities. (Psychosocial interventions. A Handbook, page 25.)

The Psychosocial Framework of 2005–2007 of the International Federation defines psychosocial support as “a process of facilitating resilience within individuals, families and communities by respecting the independence, dignity and coping mechanisms of individuals and communities. Psychosocial support promotes the restoration of social cohesion and infrastructure.”

Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies implement community-based psychosocial support interventions, which are based on the idea that if people are empowered to care for themselves and each other, their individual and communal self-confidence and resources will improve. This, in turn, will encourage positive recovery and strengthen their ability to deal with challenges in the future.

  • Read about psychosocial support: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. https://www.icrc.org/en

Psychosocial support can be both preventive and curative. It is preventive when it decreases the risk of developing mental health problems. It is curative when it helps individuals and communities to overcome and deal with psychosocial problems that may have arisen from the shock and effects of crises. These two aspects of psychosocial support contribute to the building of resilience in the face of new crises or other challenging life circumstances. (Psychosocial interventions. A Handbook, page 25-26.)

What is psychosocial well-being?

The Constitution of the World Health Organisation defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being” and not merely “the absence of disease or infirmity”.

The Psychosocial Working Group suggests that the psychosocial well-being of individuals and communities is best defined with respect to three core domains:

Human capacity refers to physical and mental health and specifically considers individuals’ knowledge, capacity and skills. Identifying an individual’s own human capacity is the same as realizing his or her own strengths and values.
Social ecology refers to social connections and support, including relationships, social networks, and support systems of the individual and the community. Mental health and psychosocial well-being are dependent on cohesive relationships that encourage social equilibrium.
Culture and values refers to cultural norms and behaviour that are linked to the value systems in each society, together with individual and social expectations. Both culture and value systems influence the individual and social aspects of functioning, and thereby play an important role in determining psychosocial wellbeing.
Psychosocial well-being is dependent on the capacity to use resources from these three core domains in response to the challenge of experienced events and conditions. The Psychosocial Working Group suggests that challenging circumstances, such as crises, deplete these resources resulting in the need for external and assistance to rebuild individual and communal psychosocial wellbeing.

Psychosocial well-being is experienced both in the personal individual and the social interactive domain, and is also influenced by external factors, such as livelihood, shelter and physical health, as shown in the model below. (Psychosocial interventions. A Handbook, page 26-28.)

Source: Psychosocial interventions. A Handbook. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. 2009. http://pscentre.org/wp-content/uploads/PSI-Handbook_EN_July10.pdf

The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) is the primary mechanism for inter-agency coordination of humanitarian assistance. It is a unique forum involving the key UN and non-UN humanitarian partners. The IASC was established in 1992 on the strengthening of humanitarian assistance.

Source: IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings. 2007.

Reflect: Based on these definitions what does psychosocial support mean?

Watch Game of Life: The Story of Sharif

Read a Story of an Afghan Boy

“When I was two, my family and I fled the war in Afghanistan to Iran, where I grew up. It was not our country, however, and when the situation in Iran got worse and the situation in Afghanistan improved, we moved back. Life there was hard and war came to the place where we lived. We couldn’t go back to Iran and did not want to go to Pakistan, where the situation is bad. The only choice was to try to go to Europe. When we reached Turkey, we got separated from each other. My parents had bad luck and was taken by the police and sent back to Afghanistan. I succeeded to get to Greece.” (Man, 22 years old)

Source: Björklund, K. 2015. Unaccompanied refugee minors in Finland. Challenges and good practices in a Nordic Context. Turku: Institute of Migration.

Reflect: What could psychosocial support mean in these cases?

In Finland, unaccompanied minors who have received their residence permit live in the family group homes. Finnish Ministry of economic affairs and employment has published a Handbook on psychosocial support work in family group homes (2017).

Read how psychosocial support is organized in family group homes:

Psychosocial support: development support, disorder prevention and remedial activity.

Key principles:

  • psychosocial support should be integrated in everyday life
  • the central idea is that every child or young person is an individual
  • in remedial activity: co-operation with specialized services, also treatment if needed
  • a confidential relationship between an employee and a young person is essential
  • active presence of a worker and doing things together
  • regular daily routines effects on feeling safe

Source: http://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/80624/8_TEMoppaat_Ilman_huoltajaa_alaikaisten_psykosos_tukeminen_05092017.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Basic things when working with young asylum seekers and refugees (age 13-30):

Merri Rannikko, a woman, Sosionom, who is working in family group home in Salo, Finland:

  1. Nurture and care – safeguarding the everyday life: nutrition, sleep/rest, clothes, basic security, adequate closeness and presence by a grown-up.
  2. The opportunity to carry out one’s own strengths – for example, challenging sporty or artistic interests or competence in the right kind of hobbies. Notice and give praise!
  3. Supporting inclusion – house meetings where youths are heard and had discussions with, personal counselling work aiming at dialogue and hearing the youth etc.
  4. Interaction based on mutual respect – the employee’s awareness of his/her own prejudices and cultural background and constant reflection of these issues.
  5. Respecting the youth’s own religion and culture and encouraging him/her to preserve his/her roots and own culture – for example, through parties, food, events etc. and enabling participation in these. 


Tatu Iisakkila, a man, Community Educator, who is working in family group home in Turku, Finland:

  1. Fix the basics (everyday life). A safe, home-like place for everyone to grow up in, with safe adults.
  2. Adequate, healthy nutrition. No unnecessary limitations. The ability to cook for yourself and have an impact on what you eat.
  3. For every youth a sensible, individual place at school, which corresponds the level of competence. Support is needed especially when transferring from one level of education to another.
  4. The opportunity for hobbies and working, individually according to interests. Hobbies are a good way to meet Finns.
  5. Encountering people individually and respectfully.
  6. Give time and space. Do not corner anyone. Do not give too many rules.
  7. Give the child and young people the right to go along with his/her culture, religion and language.
  8. Remember to use humour and optimism. You learn from your mistakes.

Reflect: How does psychosocial support appear / come out in these basic things?