Feasibility and acceptability of Problem Management Plus with Emotional Processing (PM +EP) for refugee youth living in the Netherlands : study protocol

Background: Refugee youth experience hardships associated with exposure to trauma in their homelands and during and after displacement, which results in higher rates of common mental disorders. The World Health Organization (WHO) developed Problem Management Plus (PM+), a non-specialist-delivered brief psychological intervention, for individuals who have faced adversity. PM+ comprises problem-solving, stress management, behavioural activation and strengthening social support. However, it does not include an emotional processing  component, which is indicated in trauma-exposed populations. 


Objective: This pilot randomized controlled trial (RCT) aims to evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of PM+, adapted to Syrian, Eritrean and Iraqi refugee youth residing in the Netherlands, with and without a newly developed Emotional Processing (EP) Module. 


Methods: Refugee youth (N = 90) between 16 and 25 years of age will be randomized into PM+ with care-as-usual (CAU), (n = 30), PM+ with Emotional Processing (PM+EP) with CAU (n = 30) or CAU only (n = 30). Inclusion criteria are self-reported psychological distress (Kessler Psychological Distress Scale; K10 > 15) and impaired daily functioning (WHO Disability Assessment Schedule; WHODAS 2.0 > 16). Participants will be assessed at baseline, one-week post-intervention and three-month follow-up. The main outcome is the feasibility and acceptability of the adapted PM+ and PM+EP. The secondary outcomes are self-reported psychological distress, functional impairment, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptom severity and diagnosis, social support, and self-identified problems. The pilot RCT will be succeeded by a process evaluation including trial participants, participants’ significant others, helpers, and mental health professionals (n = 20) to evaluate their experiences with the PM+ and PM+EP programmes.


Results and Conclusion: This is the first study that evaluates the feasibility of PM+ for this age range with an emotional processing module integrated. The results may inform larger RCTs and implementation of PM+ interventions among refugee youth.

Trial Registration: Registered to Dutch Trial Registry, NL8750, on 3 July 2020. Medical Ethical Committee of the Amsterdam University Medical Centre, location Vrije Universiteit Medical Centre, Protocol ID: 2020.224, 1 July 2020.

Cansu Alozkan Sever, Pim Cuijpers, Ellenor Mittendorfer-Rutz, Richard A. Bryant, Katie S. Dawson, Emily A. Holmes, Trudy Mooren, Marie Louise Norredam & Marit Sijbrandij | 2021
In: European Journal of Psychotraumatology ; ISSN: 2000-8066 | 12 | 1 | Augustus | 1947003
Adolescents, Anxiety Disorders, Depressive Disorders, Eritreans, Interventions, Iraqis, Mental health, Migrants, Netherlands, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Psychotrauma, PTSD (en), Refugees, Syrians, Young Adults