Mental Health and Migration

Body, trauma and hospitality


By: Dr. José Carlos Palacios Montoya

Coordinator of the degree in psychology

Ibero Tijuana




It is no coincidence that two of the current reference texts regarding post-traumatic stress disorder are called “The Body Remembers” (Rothschild, 2003) and “The Body Keeps Score” (Van der Volk, 2020). At the same time, there are two constant elements in these titles, the body and memory. The experience of caring people who have been through traumatic events has made clear the limitations of drugs and even psychotherapy.


 On the other hand, bodily practices or that the body experiences other sensations and environments that become safe, seems to have very good scope. In fact, neither bodily practices nor psychotherapy or drugs can bring relief by themselves. In their combination, these elements are much more powerful, of course, everything always depends on the case.


In a study carried out in family medicine units on the northern border of Mexico (Leal, Vázquez and Cantú, 2013), it was found that 49.68% of women and 50.36% of men had PTSD. Among the most common stress-producing factors were natural disasters, violent or sudden death of a close family member, and domestic violence. We know that not all border residents are migrants, but many were, and we also know that the prevalence of PTSD does not exceed 5% in other areas of Mexico.


 There are many factors that establish a relationship between leaving the place of origin and the trauma. Living on a border or passing through one is currently a propitious condition for generating or repeating a traumatic event.


Returning to the theme of the body, the Philosopher Michell Serres, in his book Variations on the Body (2011) points out the function of the body as a refuge. He proposes that since humans are bipedal animals, we lose the protective condition of the body that characterizes quadrupedal mammals. 


The four legs placed on the ground are already an anchor point and form a shelter. We human beings need an extra construction, a home that is a refuge with hospitality. Bipeds on the move, we never completely stop being nomads. We move either by the inclemency of natural phenomena, the cruelty of some human groups or even by the impulse to discover the unknown. 


In the current migratory phenomena there is a bit of everything, although a lot of social violence and socio-environmental disasters prevail. It is then that the migrant is a subject who lost his refuge and what remains, his body, remembers the refuge in flames, in destruction or threat of destruction. Trauma does not allow forgetting and that is even a way of betting on life.


That we remember the lost shelter, the hospitality he gave us and the affections we left behind is a double-edged sword. The extreme vigilance, the hypersensitivity, the body aches, all of that is trauma, all of that is felt. On the other hand, there is always some warmth left in memories. In caring for the migrant population that has experienced traumatic events, we can ignore the fact that the human body, which has ceased to be a physical refuge, has become a psychological refuge. 

We try to meet and solve physiological needs, forgetting the body as memory. It is not just about giving food to the refugee, or a place that covers him from the weather, shelter, or radical hospitality, it implies accompanying him to make a home wherever he is.


 Children remind us of radical hospitality, those who want to be friends with others, when they ask what you want to play and gently accommodate to the other’s game without stopping proposing, they make the game dialogue. Hospitality is an opportunity to generate other memories and to wrap up the traumatized body so that it can spend the night and regain strength to continue.




Leal-Morales, E. I., Vázquez-Martínez, V. H., & Cantú-Solís, O. N. (2013). Prevalence of post-traumatic stress in family medicine units in six cities on the United States-Mexico border. Family Care, 20(4), 114-117.


Rothschild, B. (2003). The body remembers casebook: Unifying methods and models in the treatment of trauma and PTSD. W. W. Norton & Company.


Serres, M. (2011). Variations on the body. Buenos Aires: Economic Culture Fund.

Van der Kolk, B. (2020). The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in Overcoming Trauma. Elephantia.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial