Guerda Nicolas: Enhancing the Mental Health Work Force in Haiti

By Guerda Nicolas
CJ Contributor

Since the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, the Boston-based Haitian Mental Health (HMH) Network has collaborated with several organizations in the US and Haiti to create a Capacity Building Initiative in International Mental Health (CBI-IMH).

The primary goal of the CBI-IMH is to provide clinical and didactic training to students in the fields of Psychology and Social Work in order to increase their knowledge base and skills to respond to the growing mental health needs of Haitian children, individuals and families. In partnership with the Faculty of Human Sciences at the State University of Haiti and the Association of Haitian Psychology, the HMH Network has conducted several training sessions and group workshops over the past couple of years.

More recently, on Aug. 15-20, 2012, a team of psychologists and social workers from the HMH Network and the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology provided an intensive “train-the-trainer” course on psychological trauma and its impact on Haitian youth and adults. Close to 40 students at the Faculty of Human Sciences (FHS) attended the seminar. Training materials were made available in Haitian Creole and the course was facilitated by Creole-speaking Haitian mental health providers.

The seminar aimed to support students in taking ownership of the training materials (e.g., by providing constructive feedback on the content) and actively engage in the learning process. Thus, the course format was guided by a participatory approach, which incorporated group-based discussions, hands-on exercises and presentations where students were encouraged to translate theoretical knowledge into practice.

By the end of the training, most of the participants had developed a number of group-based psycho-educational workshops that were culturally-oriented and developmentally-appropriate for Haitian children, adolescents and adults.

A larger mission of the CBI-IMH is to develop a more sustainable partnership with the State University of Haiti to support the clinical training and professional development of mental health students in Haiti.

Currently, the HMH Network and the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (MSPP) are planning to launch a knowledge-exchange/knowledge-transfer program that will have the following objectives: (1) provide opportunities for students at the Faculty of Human Sciences in Haiti to participate in certificate programs at MSPP; (2) offer training experiences for FHS students to “shadow” Haitian Psychologists and Social Workers working in clinical and community-based health centers throughout Massachusetts; (3) provide mentoring and consultation to FHS students through the HMH Network; (4) offer service learning opportunities to MSPP students to engage in training, research and didactic activities at the FHS in Haiti; and (5) work jointly with the State University of Haiti to develop a Master’s degree program in counseling for students who have completed their undergraduate studies at the FHS.

The numerous accomplishments of the CBI-IMH may be credited to a core group of partners who are committed to meeting the goals and objectives of this unique collaboration.

In particular are the individuals who organized the August 2012 seminar. They include the Vice-President for Research at the State University of Haiti (Professor Fritz Deshommes) as well as representatives from the Association of Haitian Psychology (Professors Marjory Clermont Mathieu and Ronald Jean-Jacques), the HMH Network (Dr Gemima St. Louis, Dr. Castagna Lacet, Dr. Joel Piton and Dr. Suze Prudent), and the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (Dr Jill Bloom and Paul Reynolds).

The HMH Network’s Capacity Building Initiative in International Mental Health is supported in part by a generous grant from the Griffin Foundation and the SPARK Center at Boston Medical Center.

Dr Guerda Nicolas, a Caribbean Journal contributor, is the chair and associate professor in the University of Miami’s Department of Educational and Psychological Studies. This is the latest in a series of analyses on groups dealing with mental health work in Haiti.