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Migration and Home Affairs
  • Germany
Target Audience
  • First responders or practitioners
  • Families
key themes association
  • Deradicalisation/disengagement
  • Training
  • 2021



Is the officially mandated counselling office of the city of Hamburg, and is responsible for all cases of religiously inspired radicalisation. It is driven by two local NGOs in cooperation and known in Hamburg for family support, psychological support, and prison and probation work.

The Civil Society Office for Risk Assessment and Data Protection is funded by the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs and the Departments of Justice Bremen and Hamburg.

Legato supports those who are able to be a key-client for deradicalisation processes by having a sustainable impact on the social system, social interactions and thus the ‘Extremist’ themselves. This support is provided by professionals with systemic expertise and practical experiences in several fields.

Type of Organisation: Other

Project description

Radicalised people do not normally call for countering violent extremism (CVE) programmes. But parents, teachers, youth workers and many others call counselling offices or exit programmes, like Legato in Hamburg, when they fear a young person (whom they care for) is slipping into radicalisation.

This fact is as much a challenge as it is an opportunity. Radicalisation is always related to, and happens within, a social system. Whoever calls the helpline is part of that social system and carries multiple possibilities to change the system. Any change in behaviour or communication by a person who is part of the system sets other changes in motion and thus is able to influence radicalisation processes.

Youth work, social work, social therapy, psychotherapy, wherever there is support to help people get out of crises. Systemic mindsets function as a framework and this mindset has taken over the role of former monocausal or behaviouristic approaches almost everywhere. Carrying over holistic constructive mindsets on how to counter violent extremism should thus not be a Columbus’ egg.

The question is: how can counselling, training and support lead to a controlled influence on individual radicalisation processes?

The answer in Hamburg is: Legato.

The role

The role of the key-client can be either to build up relationships or support relationship-building professionally. The key-client is the one counselled and supported by Legato. They can be a youth worker, a teacher, a father or a mother, a friend or a local police officer. The key-client can even be staff-members of Legato, if working with the radicalised person themselves.


The determining factor for a key-client is being chosen by the radicalised person themselves. It is Legato’s role to identify the most appropriate key-client by finding out who might be both similar to the person and credible on the one hand, and the most resilient on the other. Persons calling Legato directly, or calling the police or the central German helpline (Beratungsstelle Radikalisierung), are often already those identified as a key-client when a first analysis of the radicalised person’s situation is carried out. When people call Legato, they are hardly ever told that Legato won’t take on their case of (perceived) radicalisation.

Legato will always analyse the situation and do whatever is needed to get as much information as possible. If the person calling cannot provide enough information, Legato will try to get somebody on board who can. Privacy and confidentiality are sometimes a challenge. The information Legato looks for is primarily information about personality development, communication characteristics as well as personal relationships and recent developments in this respect, but also in the perceived radicalised person’s past.

Information about personal contacts with individuals, groups or websites of any extremist groups are not an initial focus of Legato’s investigative work, but often becomes part of the puzzle. It is important to be aware of the fact that this kind of information often leads to a perspective on the situation that deviates significantly from the genuine and important challenges related to someone’s radicalisation.

Legato is not an additional investigation tool to be used by the authorities, although any information that might appear to suggest a threat to anybody, or knowledge of a proposed or upcoming crime, will of course lead to the immediate involvement of security authorities.

How to support and train key-clients

Key-clients need to build up trust in their counsellors. Key-clients should be trained and supported transparently. The ethical ground for social work leaves no other option – any secrets between the key-client and their counsellor are a risk. The relationship between key-client and counsellor should be accompanied by a feeling of: ‘I can always call, it’s better to call too early than too late …’.

Counselling ends when the key-client says so. The experience at Legato is that nobody takes the opportunity to be counselled for the sake of fun.

Key-clients need personal empowerment that enables them to manage resilience so that they can prepare for their ‘new’ job. Relatives in particular are often very much emotionally involved and it is hard for them to both overcome their relative’s radicalisation and provide controlled support with the aim of deradicalisation.

Key-clients need to be shown that their personal role is in the life of the radicalised person and in the deradicalisation process. Systemic working counsellors and therapists are able to support this process of reflection. It is not the job of the counsellor to collect as much information as possible, but to support reflection and the transfer of information beyond any key-clients. Mostly relatives underrate the emotional power they have to influence a youngster’s personal development; sometimes they use it in a deconstructive way without realising it.

Feelings of guilt have to be deconstructed and classified within the relationship beyond key- and index-client. Responsibility on the other hand has to be generated and defined. Key-clients need to know that their own dogmatism can quickly become part of a dynamic radicalisation process. Which tools should the key-client have at their disposal?

Key-clients need to deal with several tasks that pave the way for deradicalisation-processes. They are not responsible for everything involved in a successful process, but they might be responsible for the most important parts of it, namely: reliable relationships, positive emotional messages and acknowledgement. Every radicalised person needs these three things to embark upon deradicalisation.

Most of them have not been exposed to them in relation to anyone except their dangerous ‘brothers in faith’ for a long time. They have experienced weeks, months and years of being attacked and criticised for their new friends, new world view and new way of life. This is the reason why most of them are quite susceptible to positive and emotionally loaded messages.

Key-clients need to work on this emotional grounding before they can start to support other positive aspects to deradicalisation, like:

  1. Creating new future visions and dreams together with the radicalised person. This process often involves daily debates and negotiations about what is realistic, feasible and attainable.
  2. Finding a job that the radicalised person can imagine taking on. By claiming that he or she would not be able to work in a certain job because of diverse religious and pseudo-religious justifications, young people often disqualify themselves very early on. The challenge here is to not end up in discussion about “real Islam”, but to send the message: ‘Okay then; we will try our best, and yes – it is a pity that there are so few halal jobs in our society.’ Religious justifications against starting a new job or apprenticeship can often be traced back to a mounting fear of the unknown, bad experiences of mobbing, bullying or exposure to unmanageable social interactions in a former job.
  3. Working on individual personal challenges can include building up frustration tolerance, dealing with a dangerous obsession or lack of emotional control, or coming to terms with parts of one’s own biography. For such challenges, the key-client needs a very close and permanent follow-up, as well as coaching or third parties to continue this job (again after having built up trust and a relationship with the radicalised person). The narrative of “never-cooperate-withthe-kuffar” creates the biggest obstacle here, and demands a lot of patience, endurance and resources on the key-client and third-party side.
  4. Starting a relationship is rarely something that key-clients can help with. But it can be very important to send positive messages that build up the radicalised youngster’s self-confidence. The movement to which the youngsters subscribe offers a huge marriage market and people find each other very easily. It is very important not to judge relationships within the scene. Whatever key-clients might think about a young person’s new love, the only way to use this in a positive way is to focus on happiness and pride.
  5. Exposing emotions and talking about “familysecrets”. This is easy to say but difficult to do. There are hardly any families without “secrets” from their children. The (reasonable) argument is often that the parents do not wish to harm small children with the cruel truth; the problem is, parents often miss the opportunity, when their children should be old enough to handle any kind of truth. Showing emotion is in any case always powerful, especially when this has not happened much previously. Fathers in particular can have a tremendous impact on radicalisation processes by showing emotions, showing that they are proud of their child and also demonstrating personal weakness.
  6. Finding help with psychological problems and diseases. Although radicalised persons usually deny offers of psychological help, experience shows that it is worth exploring. Sometimes the radicalised person has already started to think about psychological help, without making it into an issue. Talking to a person who does not belong to any inner social circle, nor to the circle of brothers in faith, can appear attractive at different points of the radicalisation and deradicalisation processes. Counsellors should help find a relevant psychologist: many experts think that they are not able to handle this because it seems to be about religion. But it is important to bear in mind that this is a case like any other, and religion should not be an issue.


A training programme for the key-clients has been developed.

Contact details


c/o Vereinigung Pestalozzi
Palmaille 35 A
22767 Hamburg

Contact person: André Taubert
Telephone: (+49) 403 890 2952
beratungatlegato-hamburg [dot] de (Email) | Website

Read the full practice

The key-client model