Community Collaboration Projects 2022-2023
The Danielsen Institute training fellows and the Director of Community-Based Education have developed various projects aimed to provide mental health support and education in collaboration with community partners. This is in keeping with the Institute’s mission of alleviating suffering within and beyond clinical practice. The following includes brief descriptions of projects that have been in progress since 2022.
Larry J. Brown, Jr.
Church leadership often facilitates and maintains intricate relationships with formal/traditional authorities (priest/pastor), members (parishioners), and additional structures (e.g., larger community, diocese, main campus). Knowing who congregants are, the skills/expertise they possess, issues they are facing, and concerns they hold can be a vital resource to both inform ministries and expand the resources of the church. In this project, Larry J. Brown, Jr. will aid leaders in planning and gauging how their ministries (etc., programming, worship, liturgy, homiletics) address the concerns and needs of their congregations and communities. Larry will also survey the skills/expertise present in the congregation that can be utilized to generate more innovative involvement and advance the mission of the church.
Rebecca Moussa has initiated a project in partnership with The Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center (RIAC) that recognizes the importance of language and bilingualism in psychotherapy. Given that language is connected with cultural background, behavior, feelings, symbolism, and communication, this project explores the experience of clinicians and interpreters who serve immigrants and refugees at RIAC. Therapists need to be attentive to language used in treatment, and to emotional experiences embedded within language. Through individual interviews, Rebecca explores how RIAC clinicians experience language and bilingualism in their work with immigrant and refugee clients. She also examines what is “lost” in translation within the context of clinical supervision. The project will facilitate dialogue and reflection on the meanings and use of language in psychotherapy with immigrants and refugees.
Emily Schweitzer & Whitney Wilson
Do I have ADHD? Is my mother a narcissist? Is he gaslighting me? If you are holding questions like these, you are not alone. Many people are turning to social media to try and understand themselves, make sense of interpersonal relationships, and find comfort through validation. While social media can be beneficial in offering community, stories, and support, very few qualified professionals are creating the mental health content being consumed. As a result, mental health providers are seeing an increase in clients coming to treatment with incorrect self-diagnoses, quoting misinformation, and having followed unhelpful, or even dangerous, advice. The questions being asked on these platforms are deep and complex, and no one can get thorough and individualized answers from unqualified peers on social media. In an effort to address these concerns, Emily Schweitzer and Whitney Wilson are creating an Instagram account meant to both share accurate information to expand dialogue and to correct the most common misinformation being spread. Please stay tuned for our posts and please share your feedback and thoughts!
Libby Ruffing has been working on better understanding how she might be able to support religious leaders who would benefit from the support of individual or couples therapy as they navigate a number of stressors they might find in the roles. Some of these stressors may include relational conflicts, high expectations, and criticism, caring for people who are suffering, isolation, burnout, challenges in finding rhythms of rest, pressures on their families, and financial stress. Libby has enjoyed her roles in research and clinical work with religious leaders, and she plans to carry these experiences into her clinical work in private practice. Her project has focused on better understanding the needs of individuals and organizations caring for religious leaders in Boston, and investigating how organizations may be able to subsidize therapy for religious leaders since they and their congregations do not always have adequate financial resources.
If you reflect on the credential letters that accompany your therapist’s name, do you know what they mean in terms of how a therapist might work clinically? It can be confusing how we are similar and different – even for those of us working in the field! Social workers with either a LICSW (licensed independent clinical social worker) or LCSW (licensed clinical social worker) have unique training focused on the alleviation of human suffering in broader societal in addition to more local and interpersonal contexts. Our social work code of ethics states, “A historic and defining feature of social work is the profession’s dual focus on individual well-being in a social context and the well-being of society.” This means even as a clinical social worker, one has training in policy and community work, that informs the way one practices psychotherapy. Policy work, grassroots organizing, work in schools and in legal institutions, as well as private psychotherapy practices are all welcoming career paths to a person with a social work graduate degree. The breadth of training is a strength of the profession, but it can also contribute to confusion about the social worker’s scope and expertise. As a social worker, Lauren Startup has become increasingly curious about the ways clinical social workers experience their places of work, especially when leadership in those institutions might be largely held by helping professionals of other credentials, like psychiatrists and psychologists. In her project, Lauren will be conducting a series of focus groups aimed at exploring the ways social workers experience clinical workplace settings. She looks forward to sharing her findings with the hope of raising awareness of social work training and practice in mental health settings.
Usha has been a member of a six-member planning committee of the Asian University for Women Mental Health Initiative. This project began in January 2022 through a collaboration between Dr. Anne Hallward, founder and host of Safe Space Radio, and Kamal Ahmad, the founder of the Asian University for Women (AUW) in Bangladesh, in order to provide mental health support for 171 newly arrived women who had escaped from Afghanistan. The need was urgent as the counseling staff had left during the pandemic and the Afghan evacuees had suffered trauma, cultural disruption, and loss. Over the next year, we designed and offered two series of mental health workshops focused on trauma, sleep, coping with anxiety, finding courage, overcoming stigma, and more. In addition, a team of clinicians created a series of “Writing for Friendship” groups for students, led by volunteer therapists to help foster supportive communities within the AUW. These writing groups were inspired by Kerry Malawista’s The Things They Carry project where volunteer therapists led writing groups for front-line healthcare workers during the covid-19 pandemic. These programs have now expanded to include students from all 19 countries represented at the AUW. We are now in the process of developing virtual groups with AUW faculty and staff to provide information and facilitate dialogue concerning mental health and trauma so that they can continue to support refugee students at the university. Our planning committee includes Elissa Ely MD, Layne Gregory MSW, Anne Hallward, MD, Janna Malamud Smith MSW, Kerry Malawista PhD, and Usha Tummala-Narra PhD.