Hope within trauma for refugee women: whispers and echoes through shadows and reflections

Susannah Tobin

PhD thesis, conferred 2015

The aim of this thesis is to explore understandings about hope within the experience of trauma for refugee women. In spite of intense focus on hope, trauma and refugees, no consensus exists within any of them. All are fractured by tension, conflict and incongruity that reflect historical, present and perceived future imperatives. Consequently, secondary research was undertaken within each discourse, and a constructive framework for the facilitation of hope for refugee communities is proposed.

A Hermeneutic Social Ecological Framework is developed that facilitates understanding of the interdependent relationships between individuals and the multifaceted social ecological environments in which they exist. As interpretations of hope are diverse within the disciplines of philosophy, religion, psychiatry, psychology, the health sciences and social work, these are outlined to reveal perspectives of hope that range from optimism, fundamental significance, ambivalence and negativity. The biomedical model of trauma encompassing definitions of trauma, resilience, posttraumatic stress and posttraumatic growth is discussed. Historically, refugees have been viewed with concern, indifference and animosity. This research provided an opportunity for the voices of eight refugee women from Bosnia, South Sudan and Sri Lanka now living in Australia to be heard. In depth interviews were undertaken and their narratives were analysed using hermeneutic phenomenological analysis.

The findings indicated that hope can underlie and transform experiences of trauma. For these women, hope can be understood as differentiating between hopefulness (meaning in life) and hope objectives that were facilitated by perseverance through reciprocal relationships. However, trauma casts dark shadows across life that is interpreted through reflections of reality, rather than a direct representation. Whispers and echoes can be comprehended but understandings will be inchoate with some remaining enigmatic.

Supervisors: Professor Barbara Fawcett and Dr Rosalie Pockett