The Refugee Wellness Laboratory

Practice-Driven Research.

Research-Driven Practice.

Our Purpose

The Refugee Wellness Laboratory studies diverse communities across immigration statuses – refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, unaccompanied children – and across the lifespan from early childhood to older adults. We focus on mental health outcomes in the context of the communities, organizations and health systems they interface in the United States.

Our Goals

To examine understudied pathways

to promoting mental wellness and adjustment for new arrivals in partnership with refugee resettlement programs and other community-based organizations.

To explore help and health-seeking behaviors

among newcomers and the contextual nature of trauma – i.e., pre-, peri-, post-migration trauma, historical trauma, intergenerational trauma, cultural trauma – that influences mental health presentation and engagement in mental healthcare services.

To understand active ingredients of clinical and non-clinical interventions

that promote mental wellness among forcibly displaced communities and contribute knowledge on what culturally-responsive approaches work for who, when, and under what conditions.

To extend our understanding of...

  • Cross-cultural attachment theory
  • Contextual trauma theory
  • Models of coping and healing
  • Help-seeking behaviors
  • Social connection
  • The environmental conditions that adversely influence mental health

Our Ethos: Do No Harm

We are committed to research in which our participants feel seen, respected, and are equal partners in our efforts. Read Dr. Hilado’s contribution to culturally-responsive research in the Urban Institute’s recent “Do No Harm” Report.

Quote by Aimee Hilado. Participant engagement is not for research purposes alone; researchers must work as community partners and advocates as well

Framing matters in data—our narratives, words, and visuals shape perceptions and impact communities. The Urban Institute’s latest Do No Harm Guide delves into the importance of equity in data practices, challenging assumptions and promoting inclusivity.

📊 Data practitioners often frame their work as definitive, but every decision in the data process shapes outcomes. From collection to presentation, it’s crucial to interrogate framing choices for equity. 

💡 Crafting equitable data narratives requires intention and empathy. With actionable lessons and real-world examples, we empower practitioners to prioritize equity at every stage.

👩‍💻 Let’s continue the conversation on promoting equity in data practices. Read the full report for insights on inclusive data collection, analysis, and presentation. #DataEquity #InclusiveData #DoNoHarm

 Check out the report here:

Our Approach

The Refugee Wellness Lab projects integrate core principles of transdisciplinary, intervention science and CBPR frameworks using mixed methods approaches. She seeks to humanize the complexity of the refugee experience and provide guidelines on the clinical application of evidence-based interventions with global populations through community-engaged research partnerships.

The Lab recognizes community as a unit of identity, building on community strengths and resources, researchers and communities co-learning and co-creating while balancing the value of both research and action that benefits communities and the science of the work being done1 while exploring the barriers to systematic intervention uptake that could improve broad health outcomes.

        • We provide clear guidelines for generating community and scientific knowledge that is actionable, impactful, and sustainable.
        • We translate scientific rigor into real-world community mental health practice.
        • We seek to build longer-term community connections that will grow and sustain collaboration between researchers and community members, thereby broadening our impact.
        • Lastly, we leverage research to influence local and federal immigration and health policy, centering mental health and striving to improve access to trauma-responsive mental healthcare. 

Transdisciplinary Focus

Transdisciplinarity research approaches were designed to create a meta-structure that allowed for knowledge to be developed through integration and unity across disciplines.3

It is a scientific orientation that posits that when it comes to addressing complex real-world problems, there will be in inherent incompleteness in our ways of knowing and uncertainty. TD offers a “science-based, state-of-the art, socially accepted options of solutions” that recognizes these deficits (p.528).2 It is a necessary approach to addressing challenging health topics that cut across multisector systems, geographies, ecologies and policies.2

Intervention Science

Intervention science is a core focus of the lab and passion for Dr. Hilado. She focuses on the development, testing, and dissemination of prevention and treatment models in service to newcomer individuals, families, and communities across the lifespan.

It involves systematic knowledge of the conditions under which needs and/or problems present themselves and the ways in which intervention responses are initiated, maintained, or rejected. 

Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) Framework

CBPR is a team science based research approach that emphasizes research partnership with communities as active and equal partners; a direct acknowledgment of the blind spots in our different forms of epistemics that parallels TD orientations.1

CBPR recognizes the active role, resources, and inherent knowledge in communities to define their own problems and inform solutions. When employed with strong community-research partnerships and a long-term commitment to co-learning and co-creating, there are clear gains including innovative adaptation of resources,4 empowerment of communities,6 increasing project credibility because of community alignment,5 bridging cultural differences, 5 and dismantling issues of trust in research relationships.5,6

Mixed Methods Analytical Approaches

The use of mixed methods approaches ensures that practice and research questions are answered using the most applicable and direct methods that produce both practical and empirical evidence of efficacy, value, and utility.

Studies in the lab reflect this value including sequential studies that lead with quantitative components and follow with qualitative components.

  1. Holkup, P. A., Tripp-Reimer, T., Salois, E. M., & Weinert, C. (2004). Community[AB1] -based participatory research: an approach to intervention research with a Native American community. ANS. Advances in nursing science, 27(3), 162–175.
  2. Scholz, R. W., & Steiner, G. (2015). The real type and ideal type of transdisciplinary processes: part I—theoretical foundations. Sustainability Science, 10, 527-544.
  3. Hulme M. ‘Gaps’ in climate change knowledge: do they exist? Can they be filled? Environ Humanit. 2018;10:330–337.
  4. Piaget J (1972) The epistemology of interdisciplinary relationships. In: Apostel L, Berger G, Briggs A, Michaud G (eds) Interdisciplinarity: problems of teaching and research in universities. OECD, Paris, pp 127–139
  5. Wright, C. Y., Moore, C. E., Chersich, M., Hester, R., Nayna Schwerdtle, P., Mbayo, G. K., … & Butler, C. D. (2021). A transdisciplinary approach to address climate change adaptation for human health and well-being in Africa. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(8), 4258.
  6. Stevens PE, Hall JM. Participatory action research for sustaining individual and community change: a model of HIV prevention education. AIDS Educ Prev. 1998;10:387–402.
Refugees are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, with the same hopes and ambitions as us—except that a twist of fate has bound their lives to a global refugee crisis on an unprecedented scale.
~ Khaled Hosseini

Project Spotlight

Reimagining Mental Health Support for Migrant Arrivals (2022 - Present)

This project is a community-informed capacity-building intervention for Spanish-speaking frontline staff supporting migrant arrivals in emergency shelters, community-based organizations, and police precincts in Chicago.

The multidisciplinary team from UChicago Crown, Lurie Children’s Hospital, and the Coalition for Immigrant Mental Health (CIMH) developed and implemented the intervention and are using a mixed methods program evaluation design to understand the efficacy of training components and shed light on the effects of this humanitarian crisis on the workforce supporting response.

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