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Hermeneutic approach to the experience of children from migrant families during youth mental health consultation: fragility, taming through art and re-enchantment of the world

Prudence Caldairou-Bessette, Laurance Ouellet-Tremblay, Lucie Nadeau, Mélanie Vachon

Research framework: Since migration, particularly when forced, can affect children psychologically, youth mental health consultation (YMH) can be part of the journey for migrant families. While rare articles describe this experience for families and young people (highschool), that of children (elementary school) remains even less explored.

Objective: This article examines the data of interviews integrating play and drawings conducted with 20 children from 15 migrant families who consulted in YMH (some of whom were refugees, asylum seekers or without status). The objective is to explore the children’s experience using an innovative art-based analysis method.

Methodology: We propose a hermeneutic method combining transcultural psychiatry, humanistic psychology and the interpretation of data through creative writing. Consistent with these anchors, interview data are presented narratively in the form of examples. The interpretation of the data includes the creation of a literary text entitled Jungle and Religion.

Results: The interpretation highlights 3 aspects of the children’s experience: 1) the migratory experience and the fragility it implies, 2) the use of art and play as a means of taming trauma, and 3) the idealization of the intervention.

Conclusion: The children’s experience highlights both the confusion/fear induced by migration and the compensatory role that intervention can play, creating the possibility of living out dashed hopes, but also that of rebuilding the world for the child.

Contribution: Interpretation of the results based on art and creative writing has enabled us to translate the children’s experience more accurately and to better represent it in written language, whereas it was mainly conveyed to us by the children in spoken words, play and images.