The impact of a totalitarian regime on a population has not been extensively explored from the perspective of self-psychological theories, in the psychiatric literature. Earlier, self-psychology was criticised for lacking the necessary understanding of trauma and for being a mere supplement to psychoanalysis. Kohut claimed that psychoanalysis and self-psychology could complement each other, that ‘selfobject loss or absence’ explained the psychology of traumatisation, and that ’empathic attunement’ could be used as a tool to repair the traumatised self. Recent history has seen the rise of many oppressive regimes, which, when compounded by globalisation, have generated large numbers of refugees and
displaced persons in search of safe havens.
Australia has accepted a significant number of refugees from the Thai-Burmese border, who had fled the military regime. They carry their traumatic experiences into the new country, where their experiences may be poorly understood. Their reluctance to seek help has been attributed to the language barrier, their unwillingness to acknowledge their victimhood, and their unresolved traumatic memories. The therapists will need a ‘reliable grasp’ of the clients’ cultures and their ‘lived experience’ in order to help them. When the effects of trauma are not resolved through therapy it may re-traumatise them or others. The effects of trauma may become transgenerational. The use of self-psychological principles in understanding the experience of Burmese refugees, and its techniques in treating them, have been presented in the hope that they may contribute to the better understanding of the long-term sequelae of living under a totalitarian regime