“They Stand in the Middle Now”: Pathways to Meeting Psychological Needs by Adolescents who are Refugees From Sub-Saharan Africa

Katherine Rial, Jessica Woodford, Alexander Laywell, Chaundra Merrell, Marisa Abbe, Olufunke Awosogba, Bernadette Musekura, Josephine Kalondji, Sunita Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objectives: This study explored the psychological needs of refugee youth from sub-Saharan Africa resettled in a large city in Southwest United States. We utilized the framework of Basic Psychological Needs Theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000) which proposes that competence, relatedness, and autonomy are universal psychological needs. We examined the challenges to meeting these needs and resolutions to these challenges. Integral to understanding these needs was to place them in the context of a bicultural model of adaptation. Of particular interest was discovering how these young people negotiate and reconcile home and host cultural demands while meeting needs. Method: From July 2019 to August 2020, semistructured individual interviews (N = 44) were completed with youth, parents, and cultural experts. Data were analyzed using a hybrid inductive and deductive approach and thematic content analysis. Results: Active engagement, assertion, and self-advocacy were delineated as important pathways to achieve competence. Relatedness needs were served by inclusive ties, and frequently included other “outsiders.” Autonomy came from selfsufficiency, agency, and “voice.” Altruism was common, extending beyond ethnic community, and promoted competence, relatedness, and empowerment. Conflicts between family and host culture were managed by accepting parental authority. Parents contributed to integrating home and host cultures by flexibly interpreting traditional rules. Conclusions: Our findings illustrate the strengths of these youth who manage tremendous challenges to meeting their psychological needs. We highlight how in the process of cultural adaptation they retain ties to their home culture. They choose diversity in their relationships and find agency and purpose by supporting others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)271-279
Number of pages9
JournalCultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 29 2021


  • Adolescent
  • Basic psychological needs theory
  • Cultural adaptation
  • Refugee

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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