Standardised Research Methods and Documentation in Cultural Adaptation: The Need, the Potential and Future Steps


  • Eva Heim Orcid
  • Christine Knaevelsrud


Background: Refugees and asylum seekers in Europe are affected by high prevalence of common mental disorders. Under the call ‘mental health of refugee populations’, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (FMER) funded a series of research projects to test evidence-based psychological interventions among refugee populations in Germany. In addition, the “Task force for cultural adaptation of mental health interventions for refugees” was established to develop a structured procedure for harmonising and documenting cultural adaptations across the FMER-funded research projects.
Method: A template for documenting cultural adaptations in a standardised manner was developed and completed by researchers in their respective projects. Documentation contained original data from formative research, as well as references and other sources that had been used during the adaptation process. All submitted templates and additional materials were analysed using qualitative content analysis.
Results: Research projects under the FMER call include minors, adults, and families from different origins with common mental disorders. Two studies used and adapted existing manuals for the treatment of PTSD. Four studies adapted existing transdiagnostic manuals, three of which had already been developed with a culture-sensitive focus. Four other studies developed new intervention manuals using evidence-based treatment components. The levels of cultural adaptation varied across studies, ranging from surface adaptations of existing manuals to the development of new, culture-sensitive interventions for refugees.
Conclusions: Cultural adaptation is often an iterative process of piloting, feedback, and further adaptation. Having a documentation system in place from start helps structuring this process and increases transparency.

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