Psychiatric implications of displacement: contributions from the psychology of place

Am J Psychiatry. 1996 Dec;153(12):1516-23. doi: 10.1176/ajp.153.12.1516.


Objective: The purpose of this article is to describe the psychological processes that are affected by geographic displacement.

Method: The literature from the fields of geography, psychology, anthropology, and psychiatry was reviewed to develop a "psychology of place" and to determine the manner in which place-related psychological processes are affected by upheaval in the environment.

Results: The psychology of place is an emerging area of research that explores the connection between individuals and their intimate environments. The psychology of place posits that individuals require a "good enough" environment in which to live. They are linked to that environment through three key psychological processes: attachment, familiarity, and identity. Place attachment, which parallels, but is distinct from, attachment to person, is a mutual caretaking bond between a person and a beloved place. Familiarity refers to the processes by which people develop detailed cognitive knowledge of their environs. Place identity is concerned with the extraction of a sense of self based on the places in which one passes one's life. Each of these psychological processes-attachment, familiarity, and place identity-is threatened by displacement, and the problems of nostalgia, disorientation, and alienation may ensue.

Conclusions: As a result of war, decolonization, epidemics, natural disasters, and other disruptive events, millions of people are currently displaced from their homes. Protecting and restoring their mental health pose urgent problems for the mental health community.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Development
  • Disasters
  • Humans
  • Identification, Psychological
  • Memory
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mental Health*
  • Object Attachment
  • Orientation
  • Population Dynamics*
  • Refugees / psychology*
  • Social Alienation
  • Systems Theory