Baltimore is a major center for refugee resettlement on the East Coast. Each year, approximately 1,000 refugees from conflict-torn regions arrive here under government-supported resettlement programs. Recent newcomers to our city include individuals and families from Burma, Bhutan, Eritrea, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Whatever their country of origin, all refugees have experienced displacement and loss. Those selected for resettlement in the U.S. have often spent years—even decades—in refugee camps, where insecurity and violence are rife. On arrival here, they face the challenges of cultural adjustment, which generate new types of stress. The effects of such experiences can hinder refugees’ efforts to create productive new lives.
The need for culturally-responsive mental health services for refugee clients is great, but surpasses what can be provided by staff at any one agency. At the same time, there is no shortage of qualified mental health professionals in the greater Baltimore area.
Making the “Connection”
The Intercultural Counseling Connection is an emerging Baltimore-area network of mental health professionals who are able to provide culturally-attuned therapeutic services for refugee clients and families. Supported by a Community Fellowship Grant from the Open Society Institute, the Intercultural Counseling Connection initiative is being undertaken in partnership with the International Rescue Committee and the Refugee Mental Health Program Coordinator at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Collaborating organizations include Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma (ASTT), the Maryland Office for Refugees and Asylees (MORA), Cross-Cultural Communications, the Episcopal Refugee and Immigrant Center Alliance (ERICA), and Loyola University.
The project seeks to engage licensed mental health providers committed to:
building their skills in providing culturally-adaptive therapeutic services;
engaging in self-education and cultural inquiry about the perspectives and practices that inform the diverse world-views of refugee clients, including beliefs around wellness, health, and healing;
working with a qualified interpreter whenever necessary, in order to ensure clients’ full access to services; and
providing counseling and therapeutic services for refugee clients at no cost— either on a pro bono basis, or under Medical Assistance reimbursement.
Each network member is asked to commit to working with a minimum of two refugee clients or families per year. Session frequency and duration will be determined by the client and member therapist.
In return, Connection providers will have access to a variety of informational resources as well as ongoing free opportunities for training and professional support. Connection training workshops address such topics as the nature of pre- and post-flight trauma experiences; appropriate practices in working with survivors of conflict-related trauma and torture; and working effectively with interpreters in therapeutic settings with refugee clients.
Additional member resources will include a dedicated project website and professional consultation with fellow clinicians with long experience working with refugees, immigrants, asylees, and survivors of torture
Achievements to date
Over the course of its first year, the Connection project has:
Provided seven free training workshops on topics relevant to refugee mental health, in which 46 therapists from 32 different agencies and five private practices have taken part, with a total of 424 continuing education units (CEUs) provided;
Identified a core network of mental health professionals committed to providing culturally-responsive therapeutic care for refugee clients, including clinicians who specialize in working with youth, with families, and with survivors of domestic abuse; and
Started to make its first referrals, connecting refugee and asylum-seeking clients to participating counselors.
The Connection has recently been awarded several foundation grants that will help support key activities through 2014, including the hiring of part-time clinical supervisor, coverage of interpretation services, and provision of additional training workshops in the coming year. Sessions will include a reprise of the project’s “foundational” workshop on working with refugee clients—for new clinicians seeking to become involved with the network—as well as trainings designed to strengthen currently- participating providers’ skills in working with trauma-affected refugee clients.
For more information on the workshop series and the Intercultural Counseling Connection, or to be added to the project contact list, please contact Lauren Goodsmith at firstname.lastname@example.org or (410) 235-2465.
The Intercultural Counseling Connection is a Fusion Partnerships program.