Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Psychology students care for CARE workers

Kristen Frost and Alysha Damratowski have taken numerous courses on public health, disaster mental health, clinical psychology and humanitarian aid as students in the University of Denver master’s program in international disaster psychology.

This summer, they were able to put their knowledge into practice.

Frost and Damratowski spent eight weeks in Ethiopia working with CARE, a humanitarian organization that aims to end global poverty. The students were assigned to work with CARE in Ethiopia on the branch’s Peer Social Support Program. The program has two trained employees in each of their offices to provide social support to other employees.

“As much as CARE cares for the community members they serve, they care just as much for their employees,” Damratowski says.

Damratowski and Frost developed a questionnaire about the stress levels of CARE workers and implemented stress management training.

“The staff of CARE deals with difficult situations,” Damratowski says. “Many staff members live away from family in order to work for CARE, the lack of infrastructure and electricity in the rural areas can make initiatives even harder to carry out, and job security can be a major stressor among staff.”

After the assessment, Frost and Damratowski conducted stress management training for staffers in each field office. Their final report supplied information to CARE’s main Ethiopia office about current staff stress, coping methods and recommendations to address problems.

“I chose this experience in order to gain a broader understanding of the work of large humanitarian aid organizations and the role of mental health in this field,” Frost says. “It also gave me the opportunity to utilize the skills I have developed at DU and in previous life experiences in a way that would benefit others.”

The summer internship is a requirement of students obtaining a master’s degree in international disaster psychology from DU’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology.

“Our graduate students acquire a broad perspective on international development and disaster, relevant clinical skills and knowledge in research, program evaluation and trauma in order to engage in work that can result in sustainable benefits for these communities,” says Judith Fox, director of the program.

Students have traveled to Croatia, Serbia, South Africa, Panama, Belize, Bosnia and Ethiopia for eight-week placements.

“This was a priceless experience for me,” Frost says. “I also hope that the final report we supplied to CARE will be helpful in their future work.”

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