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Refugees overcoming trauma don’t have to feel alone


“Before I started counseling there was a darkness and it was hard to breathe. After we started talking, even if the problem didn’t change, I have changed for the better”.

~Mental Wellness Program participant, 2019


The transition to life in the U.S. can be profoundly difficult and disorienting for refugee newcomers. With few material possessions and limited financial resources, they find themselves navigating a sea of legal and bureaucratic processes, new cultural norms, and language barriers. This transition is even more difficult for those who arrive with significant mental healthcare needs from having endured some of the most serious conflicts of our time. Many refugees have experienced unimaginable violence, torture, and loss. 

In 2009 Exodus began offering mental health services for the growing refugee community in Indianapolis. Now, all new clients over the age of 18 receive a mental health screening as part of their initial intake. An average of 150 refugees receive trauma-informed, culturally appropriate mental healthcare through Exodus’ Mental Wellness Program each year, and many more have participated in group activities such as art therapy. Clients are eligible for the Mental Wellness Program for up to five years after their arrival in the United States. For many, the program is vital to fending off isolation. As one participant reflected,

“It is good to have someone to talk to and feel encouraged.”

~Mental Wellness Program participant, 2018 

Exodus’ Mental Wellness Program works to address each individual’s specific situation, incorporating the interconnected psychological, social, and physical needs that affect each refugee’s adjustment and mental health. Individual and family counseling sessions are the largest portion of the Mental Wellness Program, and utilize cognitive processing therapy to help clients focus on repairing the damage done by a traumatic event to their beliefs about themselves and the world. As needed, interpreters work together with counselors and refugee clients to ensure that they can communicate and be understood.

Exodus also provides unique group activities to address specific refugee community needs. These activities have included ecotherapy outings, art therapy sessions, women’s and elders’ groups, and other such events that help meet shared needs. 

One of the many challenges refugees face on their path to mental wellness is the fact that mental healthcare may have been a foreign concept or even highly stigmatized in their home countries. Each year Exodus provides educational workshops with the intent of educating clients on the importance of mental health. Recently, our Mental Wellness Program teamed up with the Youth Program to help refugee youth broach this sometimes difficult topic in a friendly and supportive environment. It is with this same philosophy that we work to coordinate mental wellness programming with the range of services Exodus clients utilize as they work toward self-sufficiency, such as employment preparation, housing support, and education.

As refugees find support and develop coping mechanisms to address the traumas they have endured, they overcome one more barrier to building stable and healthy lives. We feel fortunate that we can help them in this process. Exodus’ Mental Wellness Program offers the only dedicated mental health services for refugees in Indianapolis, and is funded entirely by the generosity of our supporters in the community, including the Clowes Fund, the Hansman Fund, the Hoover Family Foundation, and individual donors.

You can support the program today with a donation to Exodus, and help us continue providing vital mental wellness services for refugees.