Open Access Open Badges Research article

Provision of mental health services in resource-poor settings: a randomised trial comparing counselling with routine medical treatment in North Afghanistan (Mazar-e-Sharif)

Sarah Ayoughi1*, Inge Missmahl2, Roland Weierstall1 and Thomas Elbert1

Author affiliations

1 Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz, 78457 Konstanz, Germany

2 International Psychosocial Organisation (Ipso), 78462 Konstanz, Germany

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Citation and License

BMC Psychiatry 2012, 12:14  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-12-14

Published: 29 February 2012



Psychosocial stress caused by war, ongoing conflict, lack of security, and restricted access to resources promotes mental suffering and diseases in many resource-poor countries. In an exemplary setting, the present study compares the efficacy of psychosocial counselling with routine pharmacological treatment in a randomised trial in Mazar-e-Sharif (Afghanistan).


Help seeking Afghan women (N = 61), who were diagnosed with mental health symptoms by local physicians either received routine medical treatment(treatment as usual) or psychosocial counselling (5-8 sessions) following a specifically developed manualised treatment protocol. Primary outcome measures were symptoms of depression and anxiety assessed before treatment and at follow-up using the Hopkins Symptom Checklist and the Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview. Secondary outcome measures were psychosocial stressors and coping mechanisms.


At 3-month follow-up, psychosocial counselling patients showed high improvements with respect to the severity of symptoms of depression and anxiety. In addition, they reported a reduction of psychosocial stressors and showed an enhancement of coping strategies. At the same time, the severity of symptoms, the quantity of psychosocial stressors and coping mechanisms did not improve in patients receiving routine medical treatment.


These results indicate that psychosocial counselling can be an effective treatment for mental illnesses even for those living in ongoing unsafe environments.

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