By Mercedes Palacios & Celeste Poe
Our professional and personal goals in pursuing global mental health training revolve around increasing our understanding of mental health disparities and our skills of integrating culture and diversity into our clinical work. Our combined life experiences have allowed us to witness the lack of access to mental health services within minority communities due to limited resources, stigma, and systemic barriers to well-being. Our passions led us to seek this global mental health training to not only learn about disparities in other countries but also highlight community protective factors. In order to increase our cultural humility, we took advantage of the amazing opportunity offered in the Culture, Community, and Global Mental Health research lab to spend a month in Nairobi, Kenya, gaining exposure to the unique culture and honing our skills in research and clinical work.
The majority of our time was spent growing our skills in research, including coding interviews and co-authoring two separate manuscripts related to the role of traditional birth attendants in perinatal mental health. We were also able to demonstrate our knowledge of qualitative research methods and clinical work with families by presenting on the Family Systems approach and offering training for the use of NVivo. Clinically, we had the opportunity to shadow a licensed psychologist multiple times throughout our stay while she underwent clinical rounds at Nairobi West Hospital, including sitting in on sessions with individual patients, groups, and families. During our last week, we were able to co-facilitate a therapy group on relapse prevention at a rehab facility with police officers. Lastly, adding to what we learned through our research there, we had the amazing opportunity to venture to one of the poorest slums in that area of the world. There, we co-facilitated interviews with pivotal local community members including a traditional healer, a traditional birth attendant, and a pregnant adolescent.
We believe global mental health training is profoundly meaningful and beneficial to clinicians in training, particularly those interested in working in low-income communities. This type of work really puts into perspective the various needs of individuals with low resources, while at the same time highlighting the tools and resources that communities use to supplement those needs. Students are able to gain real-world exposure to different cultures and mental health disparities in ways that could never be taught in a class or textbook. In addition, we would like students to know that while the outcomes of global mental health training are extremely beneficial and really serve to increase cultural competence, the journey may not always be easy. It is important to maintain openness, flexibility, and most importantly respect for others by being curious to learn about their experiences and cultural practices. The experience gained in global mental health training is invaluable and serves to prepare students to become culturally humble clinicians. Moving forward, we will take this greater perspective of the world and global mental health into our work with trauma in families in more local communities and be better equipped to understand systemic and historical barriers to treatment.