Counseling disaster survivors

Psychology students at a research presentation

Psychology Students Provide Mental Health Services Across the Globe

Many DU students use summer break as an opportunity to travel the world, but most of them visit countries and continents for their own enjoyment as tourists. That’s not the case for students in the Graduate School of Professional Psychology’s International Disaster Psychology (IDP) program.

Over the summer, 21 IDP graduate students spent two months at mental health service placements in nine different countries. Groups of two or three students were assigned to sites in Bosnia, Cambodia, Chile, Liberia, Malawi, Nepal, the Philippines, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

“Our hope is always that the students are able to have an experience of putting into practice what we teach in the classroom, and that they come back and reflect and build upon their knowledge of themselves and others,” said Judy Fox, director of IDP.
On Oct. 26, the students shared their experiences with a group of family, friends, faculty and program alumni. Each country group presented a poster that described their work and what they learned.

Julia Harbell, Ashley Kowal and Emily Wagner spent their summer in Kathmandu, Nepal, with an organization called Voice of Children (VOC). “We worked with around 40 boys between the ages of 5 and 16 who had been formerly living on the streets,” Wagner said. “Many of them had experienced sexual trauma — we worked with Voice of Children to rehabilitate and reintegrate them with their families.”

In addition to clinical work, some students researched effective methods of dealing with trauma. Laura Feehs interned with the Post-Conflict Research Center in Sarajevo, Bosnia. She looked at how unemployment and inter-ethnic tensions affect youth in post-conflict societies, specifically in the context of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide. “My experience in Bosnia helped me realize how psychology fits into transitional justice,” Feehs said. “As a society coming out of a war, the fact that mental health services weren’t really provided is evident in the way that the last 20 years have unfolded in Bosnia.”

Regardless of where they worked, most of the students agreed that their placements would influence the kinds of careers they pursue. Kowal said that working with young boys in Nepal sparked her interest in child protection services. “It definitely confirmed wanting to do work overseas,” she added.

The event also included panel discussions in which students noted the similar themes that emerged across their diverse placements. In one panel titled “Pre-departure, Connecting, Re-entry,” Bridget Kromrey said that while each of the students prepared differently for their journeys, “None of us could have imagined what experiences or people were awaiting us. Despite the many difficulties and the memories I wanted to leave behind, I carry those people with me tonight, and there’s no preparing for that.”