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PAU’s Sita G. Patel, Ph.D., to Offer Global Perspective on Healing After Trauma During Commonwealth Club Talk Nov. 15

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Sita G. Patel, Ph.D., PAU associate professor of clinical psychology and board member of Partnerships for Trauma Recovery (PTR), has been selected to speak about the traumatic experience of refugees and victims of human rights violations during a public forum at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club on November 15. The panel discussion, A Global Perspective on Healing After Trauma: Where Health and Human Rights Meet, also features Nick Nelson, medical director of the Highland Hospital Human Rights Clinic and advisory board member of PTR, and Annika Sridharan, founder and clinical and training director of PTR.  Tickets are available on the Commonwealth Club website 

The Bay Area has welcomed many people who have been displaced from countries facing ethnic, social, economic, or political conflict. The panelists, who work directly with Bay Area refugees and asylum seekers, will share their perspectives on global as well as local trauma healing and how they are restoring refugees’ health and awakening hope in response to human rights abuses. PAU trustee Matt Levine, a Commonwealth Club membership committee member, was instrumental in convening the panel based on a compelling presentation of Dr. Patel’s research 

The experience of refugees is complex—with traumatic events happening before, during, and after migration. Those who are able to immigrate to the United States are often forcibly displaced from their homes, escaping war, persecution, and violence, and then go on to experience long and arduous journeys physically and emotionally. When they arrive to the Bay Area, they are confronted with many additional stressors, ranging from hostility and discrimination, overcrowded living spaces and language barriers, to fears of 

“My colleagues and I have seen that survivors of human rights violations can be very resilient and have the potential for healing over time,” said Dr. Patel, “For those who escape terrible circumstances and relocate to the Bay Area, essential to their adaptation is successfully navigating the complex legal and socioeconomic structure in the US. All points of contact—whether legal, medical, educational—need to be trauma informed and culturally responsive. If provided with the necessary support, refugees have an amazing capacity to overcome immense life obstacles and become contributing members of our local communities,” she explained.

Trailblazing Work in the Central African Republic
Outside the U.S., Dr. Patel was part of a team conducting the first ever trauma intervention study in the Central African Republic (CAR). A country often rated among the three poorest in the world, citizens of CAR have suffered many decades of violence and human rights violations—even more so in recent years.  Given the extremely high rates of trauma throughout the population, including approximately 600,000 internally displaced people, the need for psychological care is immense. However, there is essentially no mental health infrastructure in CAR. The project was led by PAU faculty Bill Froming and Karen Froming, and in collaboration with PAU Trauma Area of Emphasis director, Lisa Brown, Ph.D., ABPP.

Dr. Patel conducted focus groups to better understand culturally-unique manifestations of trauma, and then worked with the team to carry out an intervention in the capital city of Bangui. The project trained local community leaders to carry out trauma healing and peace interventions, which were found to effectively reduce trauma symptoms. This “task shifting” approach enables collaboration and understanding with local communities, and increases the ability of mental health services to be accessed by many, worldwide.

“The issue of human rights violations is extremely timely right now, not just internationally, but nationally and locally right here in the Bay Area,” said Dr. Patel. “The current U.S. socio-political climate and the immigration system is in many ways unwelcoming to refugees. Within those systems, basic human rights continue to be violated through systems like detention and deportation processes,” she said.

Fostering Resilience Among Newcomer Teens in Bay Area
Locally in the Bay Area, Dr. Patel conducts community collaborative research with public schools in Oakland and San Francisco, which serves immigrant youth who have recently arrived to the U.S. She is exploring how multiple complex risk factors play out among immigrant teens to determine what kinds of experiences typically result in poor psychological and academic outcomes. Research has shown that, for many young immigrants, adjustment deteriorates over time. This project hopes to better understand adjustment for newcomer teens to inform the ways that teachers, clinicians, and other service providers may help foster immigrant youth resilience.

About Sita G. Patel, Ph.D.
Dr. Patel joined the faculty at Palo Alto University in 2010. She is a clinical and community psychologist with research interests in global mental health and culture and context as they relate to immigrant mental health. Her work uses mixed-methods approaches to study acculturation stress, psychological, social, and academic adjustment, and access to treatment for mental illness among immigrant and minority populations. Dr. Patel leads PAU’s Culture, Community, and Global Mental Health Lab.

About Partnerships for Trauma Recovery
Based in Berkeley, California, PTR joins the global movement to reduce the mental health gap by addressing the psychosocial impacts of trauma caused by war, torture, forced displacement, human trafficking, and persecution due to identity and beliefs. Their services include mental health care for international survivors of human rights abuses, clinical training for globally-minded clinicians, and policy advocacy for efforts aimed at reducing trauma.

A partnership between PAU and PTR began in 2016, with the first cohort of PTR’s Global Healing & Human Rights Clinical Training Program. PTR is a member of Bay Area Practicum Information Collaborative (BAPIC), through which they welcome a cohort of psychology doctoral students as trainees each year. In 2017, PTR received Palo Alto University’s Award for Distinguished Service in Multicultural Training in Psychology from PAU's Center for Excellence in Diversity. Learn more about PTR


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