Muthoni Imungi, PhD, LMSW

Acculturative stress and psychological distress in adult female Liberian refugees

I chose to focus my doctoral dissertation research on adult female Liberian refugees residing in a major metropolitan city in Michigan because African refugees and women are two sub-groups that have often been ignored in acculturation studies. Data for this study was collected between December 2007 and March 2008.

I first worked with refugees during my 2002 MSW field placement at the Asian Association of Utah (AAU). The Refugee Center at the AAU had been funded by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to develop programs that would provide acculturation support to refugee women living in Salt Lake City. As a result of this grant, the AAU developed empowerment groups for women in three of the largest refugee groups in Salt Lake City: Soviet Union, Somali and Sudanese refugees. Because of my experience, I was asked to coordinate the Sudanese refugee women’s empowerment group, approximately 30 Sudanese refugee women, in order to provide them with skills that would support their successful acculturation into mainstream US society.

As I worked with these women, I got to know each of them on a personal level. I heard stories about the challenges they faced as they adjusted to living in a new culture very different from their own. Additionally, I realized that while some of the women had adjusted to living in mainstream US society without much difficulty, it seemed harder for others. These differences that I observed stimulated my interest in issues associated with immigration and acculturation and led to my choosing this topic for my dissertation research.

Although findings for this research are still being analyzed, it is hoped that they will provide information that can be used to develop resettlement programs that are supportive of acculturation of African refugees living in the US.