Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Healing from War and Trauma: Southeast Asians in the U.S.: A Buddhist Perspective and the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Healing from War and Trauma: Southeast Asians in the U.S.: A Buddhist Perspective and the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma

Article excerpt


The Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma (HPRT) is located in Cambridge, Lynn, and Lowell Massachusetts, and is part of the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. The HPRT was founded in 1981, originally as the Indo-Chinese Psychiatry Clinic in Boston by Richard Mollica, MD, a student of the Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh since the 1970s, and Mr. James Lavelle, LICSW.

The HPRT, in collaboration with others, has pioneered the field of mental health care of populations affected by mass violence and natural disasters. Countries the HPRT has been invited to assist include Cambodia, Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, Rwanda, Uganda, Peru, Bosnia, Afganistan, and Chile (HPRT, Retrieved on April 6, 2008 from

In December 2004, the HPRT and the Istituto Superiore di Sanita (ISS) in Italy created a first time global forum with over 50 Ministers of Health from the world's post-conflict nations along with collaborators from Caritas Rome, Fulbright New Century Scholars Program and the World Bank. The forum, Projectl Billion: International Congress of Ministers of Health for Mental Health and Post-Conflict Recovery, endorsed a science-based, culturally effective and sustainable training project on an international level called the Mental Health Action Plan and Book of Best Practices for post-conflict recovery.

Project 1 Billion revealed the great need for the education and capacity building of health care professionals, international relief workers and policy makers in the area of mental health in post-conflict and disaster recovery. Toward that end the HPRT and ISS now offer the Mastery in Global Mental Health Certificate Program. The program covers a six part framework for Mental Health Recovery that form the core foci related to society-wide recovery from disaster, war, or genocide (Mollica & McDonald, 2003). The six foci are: 1. Policy/ Legislation; 2. Financing; 3. Science-based Mental Health Services, 4. Multi-Disciplinary Education; 5. the Role of International Agencies; and 6. Linkage to Economic Development and Human Rights.

Science-based Mental Health Services

The focus of this paper is the third area of Recovery noted above, Science-based Mental Health Services, specific to the Southeast Asian patients. This particular population are treated by the author as part of the HPRT in Lynn, Massachusetts, through the Lynn Community Health Center (LCHC). LCHC is a multi-disciplinary outpatient health service clinic located north of Boston, Massachusetts.

The author is an adult psychiatric mental health (APMHNP) and family nurse practitioner (FNP) and is employed by the LCHC and the HPRT as a member of an inter-disciplinary team (MD, NP, MH worker). The team provides an approach that integrates traditional allopathic western medicine (diagnosing/prescribing) in a setting that respects the patient's spirituality, religion, and culture. The team approach utilizes modalities of acupuncture, mindfulness, and tai chi, chi gong; and employs group work which appreciates the persistence of hardship and dislocation that attends much of the immigrant experience.

The elements of recovery at the patient level include three interpenetrating themes:

1. The Power for Self Healing: The energy of mindfulness and interbeing;

2. Storytelling as Healing: Understanding the power of Memory and the role of Ritual and Altruism;

3. Respect for the importance of Spirituality, Work, and Altruism in healing.

The Power of Self Healing

The body has its own force for self-healing. Like the immune system's whiteblood cells' ability to contain foreign antigens that cause disease, the healing of emotional wounds occurs in a natural psychobio-spiritual immune system of its own (Mollica, 2006). The mind-body is powerfully fused and immediately sets into action when trauma occurs. …

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