Reflections on working with asylum seekers:

Having worked for over 15 years as a licensed clinical social worker, I have repeatedly been reminded of how grateful I am for the good things in my life.  My work reminds me not to take for granted for my mental and physical health, the fact that I grew up with love and support, and that I have had easy access to high quality education, vocational opportunities and a comfortable financial situation.  No population I have worked with has provided me with this feeling of gratitude more than my work with new immigrants to the United States.  The stories of struggle, poverty and financial and emotional strain, both in their countries of origin and as they adjust to life in the U.S. are intense.

Hearing the stories of asylum-seekers, however, has brought me a whole new level of gratitude.  Like many in the U.S, I am often critical of our political system, embarrassed at times and frustrated at others.  However, I have learned from hearing first-hand experiences of political torture victims, how grateful I am to be able to express my views and absolutely never fear for my safety or well-being.  And I do take that for granted much of the time –like the fact that I can say whatever I want in my blog and there will not be any retaliation against me for what I write.

People sometimes express their admiration for what I do, and how hard it must be to hear these difficult stories.  And it definitely can be emotionally draining.  However, I get so much from my work, and my sense of gratitude is probably the most important reward.  This gift of gratitude has comforted me at times when I have felt I am not compensated well financially – the fact that I have interesting, fulfilling work where I not only help others, but also get to recognize daily the good fortune I have been lucky enough to live with.

When I hear the lengths people have gone through to get to the United States, I am again humbled to have simply been born here.  People risk their lives, and endure endless months of treacherous travel conditions, sometimes experiencing abuse and rape along the way.  It underscores just how terrible life was for them in their country of origin, that they would be willing to leave behind their family, friends and culture, with the glimmer of hope that the U.S. will bring them what they have not found in their homeland – opportunity and freedom.

As difficult as the immigration situation is in the United States with the ethical and legal challenges that arise from having so many seeking safety and opportunity, I am forever proud that I live in this country where we have freedom and hope, and where people travel from so far away and risk so much.

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Susan Jacobson website

Thanks so much to Susan Jackobson for having two links to my website on hers.  You can access her website at  This website if full of information for those who work with immigrants, including definitions of terms used in immigration law, information on trainings related to immigration issues and resources for immigrants.  I am honored to be sited on her website.  Thanks Susan.  Liz

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How to prepare a client for a psychological evaluation:

 1. It is helpful for the client to call the therapist directly prior to the evaluation meeting to have a conversation about what to expect during the evaluation.

2. Encourage your client to be as open and honest as they can during their evaluation. Downplaying the situation will work against them. This is the time to really be honest about emotional pain and hardship. Sometimes cultural factors can play into how comfortable a client feels about sharing their feelings. In these cases it is particularly important to prepare the client for the fact that the evaluator will be asking very personal questions about situations that may be painful to recall. 

3. Try to encourage the client to relax. This is not an exam, and there are no right or wrong answers. The meeting can actually often be helpful and cathartic to clients. I have had many clients thank me at the end of our session, feeling relieved to have had someone to listen emphatically to their story.

4. Ask your client to organize their thoughts a prior to the meeting. What is it that they want to make sure to get across? They can even write down some taking points. The interview will be directed by the therapist, but the client needs to make sure they don’t forget any key points.

5. If the client has previously seen a therapist or had any other mental health evaluations, it is helpful to obtain consent for the evaluator to contact the other clinician. If there are any written reports or documentation from another therapist, please have the client bring this along.

6. If the client has written their own statement, this can be useful to the clinician, but is not a necessity.

7. If translation is needed, advise the client to bring along someone they feel very comfortable sharing their most personal thoughts with. The questions in an evaluation are often of a very private nature.

8. Even if translation is not required, it sometimes makes a client feel more comfortable and open to have a close relative, spouse or friend with them for moral support. Even if this person sits in the waiting area, it is sometimes comforting for the client to know that someone they trust is right nearby.


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Why refer a client for a psychosocial evaluation?

Some immigration lawyers use psychological evaluations regularly with their clients.  Others have been slower to identify the strong benefits such evaluations provide.  Here are two (of many) reasons immigration lawyers prioritize clinicial evaluations with their clients:

1,  The impartial nature of hiring an outside source to provide an independent assessment of the situation.  This adds invaluable strength to the case. 

2.  The diagnostic ability of the therapist to confirm suspected mental health issues substantiates a client’s claims of suffering.

The top three types of cases immigration lawyers use evaluations for:

1.  Asylum.  A psychosocial evaluation is invaluable in determining the extent of trauma a client experienced in their country of origin, and the possible ongoing nature of the emotional impact on their current functioning.

2.  Domestic Abuse (VAWA).  A clinical evaluation is critical in assessing the existence and extent of abuse an immigrant experienced during their marriage to a U.S. citizen.  The evaluation is crucial in determining the emotional impact such abuse has caused the immigrant.

3.  Hardship.  An evaluation of family members of an immigrant facing deportation is necessary to show the possible negative impact such a move would have on these U.S. citizens.  These evaluations include an assessment of mental health as well as financial, vocational, educational and medical suffering family members may experience if their parent or spouse is forced to leave.

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