Psychosocial counseling for refugees by the Malteser Werke

Digital short-term counseling approach in the mother tongue of refugees
Good Practices

Psychosocial counseling for refugees by the Malteser Werke

Digital short-term counseling approach in the mother tongue of refugees
People wearing masks looking at a computer

The project in brief

The project is implemented by Ipso and Mateser Werke in Germany. The project is bound to last 2 years.

Since the beginning of 2022, the cooperation between Ipso and the Malteser Werke has enabled the provision of digital Ipso counseling for refugees being cared for in 18 state and municipal accommodation facilities. Refugees have the opportunity to participate in individual digital counseling sessions in a total of 18 languages. 

Ipso's counselings approach focuses on low-threshold support services to help refugees cope with psychosocial stress situations. The culturally-sensitive counseling approach Value Based Counseling (VBC) has been developed by Ipso and successfully implemented in many countries. This approach aims to help individuals navigate difficult life transitions and (re)connect to their strengths and resources, rather than focusing on deficits. Counseling on an equal footing is made possible through native language and culturally sensitive support. This is not a psychotherapy, but rather a short-term and low-threshold counseling service. In addition by the counseling service the Malteser staff is relieved in their daily care of refugees and can offer them in-depth conversations with professional counselors in their native language. 

Main activities of the Good Practice

The social workers from Malteser Werke are the local contact persons for the refugees who are in need of the psychosocial support by Ipso. They organize and coordinate the appointments and the availability of the special care points that provide participants with a protected environment, stable internet connection, a pleasant atmosphere, and the necessary technical equipment to use online counseling anonymously and in peace. On average, refugees participate in 3-5 sessions with the same counselor. Sessions can take place on short notice - within a maximum of 72 hours. The use of the digital service is facilitated through a professional encrypted IT platform provided by Ipso. To ensure that the project goals are achieved there are regular meetings between Ipso and Malteser Werke. 

Elements which helped facilitate the implementation of the good practice

The VBC counseling approach was established in Afghanistan and has been practiced there since 2011. We realized that many refugees are psychologically overwhelmed in the new environment here in Germany and that it is helfpul for them to speak to someone in their mother tongue who made similar experiences or is from an equal cultural background. Ipso and Malteser Werke were working together since 2018 and especially in the two years of the pandemic we realised how important digital psychosocial services can be. Furthermore the low-threshold counseling service reliefs the overwhelmed german health care system and can be seen as one element in the very important supportive structures of psychosocial services. The project is funded by a foundation. 

Partners involved

Depending on the regional possibilities, clients can be referred to other help organizations or institutions. 

What challenges were encountered in delivering the project and how were they overcome?


Psychological support is still stigmatized and faces a lot of prejudices. Besides this, in some countries there is very little knowledge about psychosocial issues and services. 

How they were overcome

In our project, we try to avoid psychological terms and focus on the fact, that the counselings are meant to be low-threshold support elements, that help refugees to reconnect with their inner ressources and strength. Furthermore we raise awareness in our camps through the social workers, who themselves take part in Ipso workshops about mental health. 

Results of the Good Practice

  • Cases where clients/refugees could develope a realistic plan to handle theit difficult life transition
  • The atmosphere in the refugee camps has improved
  • The employees feel more confident and competent to provide help to the refugees in the camps
  • The counseling service can help to overcome language barriers and to motivate the clients to take part in social activities provided by the social workers working in the camps

In what way does the good practice meet one or more of the four objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees?

Objective 1: Ease the pressures on host countries

By providing low-threshold psychosocial support for refugees, the German health care system, that is overwhelmed, is relieved.

Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance

By taking part in Ipso`s counseling process, refugees are reconnected to their inner strength and ressources. Furthermore their resilience is improved which will ultimately lead to a higher self-efficacy. 

Next steps

An evaluation is conducted by Syspons and is expected to be pubslished beginning of next year. We expect that the results will help us that the project would be financed and there is more empirical evidence that Ipso`s counseling approach ist fruitfull. Malteser Werke will continue to work with Ipso and to raise awareness for the importance of mental health and support structures. 

Are there areas in which support would be required to continue and/or scale up your good practice?

After two years of the project we noticed that we need a closer collaboration with regional help organization/institutions and a very clear and specific referral system. In addition financing the project is still a big issue.
To keep services like Ipso and other important support structures sustained, the question of finances needs to be placed and more discussed in politics.

Submitted by:

Clara Hüttenbrink-Marku (Malteser Werke) - project coordinator - [email protected]

Paul Dunkel (Ipso) - project coordinator - [email protected]