Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Disaster psychology program garners innovation award

A world torn apart by war, political violence, natural disasters and epidemics creates a corresponding need for mental health clinicians who are trained to address those affected by such traumas. The University of Denver is addressing that need in its International Disaster Psychology program.

The program, part of the Graduate School of Professional Psychology (GSPP), equips master’s level students with in-depth knowledge of trauma psychology, multicultural issues and international law, allowing them to serve in international relief organizations. In January, the National Council of Schools and Programs in Professional Psychology (NCSPP) awarded the program the “Innovation in Professional Psychology Education” award. The recognition included a $5,000 stipend that will be used for program development.

NCSPP President Michael Horowitz says DU’s program recognizes the need for professional psychology in new, global environments.

“The DU program is the next innovative step in educating psychology students to understand needs of cultures around the world,” says Horowitz.

“We have the first clinical program of its kind in the United States,” says Elaine Hanson, assistant professor and International Disaster Psychology Program director. “The award will boost our recognition throughout the country.”

The disaster psychology program began as a yearlong seminar for doctoral psychology students in 2003 and expanded into a master’s program in 2005.

In addition to coursework, students must complete 18 credit hours of local community fieldwork and international field experience. Students have applied their disaster psychology training at non-profit organizations in Bosnia and South Africa and Hanson hopes to extend the fieldwork to other countries.

In Bosnia, students worked with orphanage staff, war widows and veterans. Students developed a mental health program for workers involved in exhuming mass graves. In South Africa, students developed a program to support refugee women, worked with youth in a residential treatment program and developed a day treatment program for AIDS orphans.

“The experience our students have in this program challenges them to become more insightful and sensitive to the needs of others, both at home and abroad,” Hanson says.

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