Life experiences of Cambodian-American refugee women: Segmented life stories

Jane A McCool, University of Rhode Island


Of the estimated 50 million international refugees and displaced persons (U.S. Committee for Refugees, 2003), 80% are mothers with children (Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, 2003). There is a paucity of research that explores refugee experiences with organized violence and healing following such events. Available research typically addresses acts of domination and oppression rather than life stories of individuals. Individual health and healing responses are ordinarily examined through the lens of psychotraumatology. A socialized view proposes that exposure to trauma is not a private experience and that the refugee experience of organized violence, the flight to safety, and life in a new land weaves a complex web of traumatization, loss, and healing. This paradigmatic shift considers the notions of human loss and bereavement rather than mental illness as fundamental to human behavior in this situation. ^ The aim of this study was to explore the life stories of three female Cambodian-American refugees in order to understand what their lives had been like since their arrival in the United States, how and if they had experienced personal healing, and their thoughts of how nurses and other health care providers could be part of the healing process. The research design included a form of narrative analysis, a segmented version of the Life Story Interview (Atkinson, 1998). The interviews were kept intact, complete stories of individuals were analyzed, and similarities in themes within and across interviews were identified. This method was utilized in order to draw attention to the contextualized nature and experience of healing within the lives of these women since their arrival in the United States through indepth, semistructured interviews. ^ All of the narratives revealed a sense of disruption in psychological and social-interpersonal states and adaptation to culture. Trauma and disruption to familial social order was highly problematic and strongly influenced a sense of wholeness and well being. Responses to the suggestion of enhancing nursing and health care interventions underscored the importance of transcultural understanding and communication, tolerance for differences in world views, recognition of survival and growth in the face of adversity, and finally the power of human connection. ^

Subject Area

Health Sciences, Nursing|Health Sciences, Public Health

Recommended Citation

Jane A McCool, "Life experiences of Cambodian-American refugee women: Segmented life stories" (2003). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3115634.