Culture, tradition, structural violence, and mental health-related stigma play a major role in global mental health for refugees. Our aim was to understand what factors determine the success or failure of community-based psychotherapy for trauma-affected refugees and discuss implications for primary health care programs. Using a systematic realist-informed approach, we searched five databases from 2000 to 2018. Two reviewers independently selected RCTs for inclusion, and we contacted authors to obtain therapy training manuals. Fifteen articles and 11 training manuals met our inclusion criteria. Factors that improved symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD included providing culturally adapted care in a migrant-sensitive setting, giving a role to other clinical staff (task-shifting), and intervention intensity. Precarious asylum status, constraining program monitoring requirements, and diverse socio-cultural and gender needs within a setting may reduce the effectiveness of the program. Primary care programs may enable community based mental health care and may reduce mental health-related stigma for refugees and other migrants. More research is needed on the cultural constructs of distress, programs delivered in primary care, and the role of cultural and language interpretation services in mental health care.
Keywords: CBT; CETA; NET; global mental health; primary health care; refugees and asylum seekers.