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UKIC / International Center / The Department of Psychology's First Time on a STSG Brigade

The Department of Psychology's First Time on a STSG Brigade

Wednesday, October 18, 2017 | By Sydney Sparks

University Kentucky’s Clinical psychologist Dr. Mary Beth McGavran, from the Department of Psychology, participated in a Shoulder to Shoulder Global health brigade for the very first time in August. McGavran traveled to Santo Domingo, Ecuador and attended the brigade Aug. 3-12. Throughout the brigade, McGavran and her partners discovered a few major findings regarding psychological issues and needs in Ecuador.

On the 10-day multidisciplinary health brigade experience, students, faculty and staff provide medical care and public health education to members of the Santo Domingo community.

During the brigade, McGavran visited a school for children with disabilities called "Fe y Luz," a local church called "Plan de Vivienda" and the Centro de Salud Hombro a Hombro clinic. McGavran said her experience on the brigade greatly exceeded her initial expectations.

"I had some of the busiest clinical days I've ever had in my entire career as a psychologist,” McGavran said. "I found people there to be more trusting, and they had an easier time opening up about their problems than people in the U.S."

During clinical days, McGavran explained that they found an immense need for psychological resources due to the large number of stressors Ecuadorians face daily. These stressors include violence, trauma, financial issues, physical pain, lack of clean water and infrastructure problems. Unfortunately, Ecuador severely lacks psychological support and education for its inhabitants.

Even though there is a lack of psychological knowledge, McGavran and her partners
found Ecuadorians were more interested and receptive to mental health than they initially expected. On the next brigade, McGavran said she wants to do a more formal needs assessment in order to address sustainable efforts for the people of Ecuador

McGavran knew about the STSG brigades for years, but didn't get involved until her friend Hartley Feld, a faculty member in the College of Nursing, mentioned the need for psychological care in Santo Domingo, Ecuador. McGavran met with Dr. Tom Young, pediatrician and founder of STSG, and Craig Borie, STSG program coordinator, to talk about how psychology could be added as another specialty among the other four that are already represented on the multidisciplinary health brigades.

Before attending the August brigade, McGavran had low expectations about how much work she would be doing while in Santo Domingo."I was expecting not to have a lot to do (on the brigade)," McGavran said, "I thought people might be reluctant to talk to a psychologist."  

Since McGavran doesn't speak Spanish, she was accompanied by Maria Belen Vasconez, a faculty member specializing in psychology from the Universidad de Las Américas in Ecuador, during her clinical days and facility visits.

"Working with Maria made the brigade so much fun and she brought cultural knowledge and understanding that I didn't have," McGavran said about working with Vasconez.

McGavran also partnered with Lexington clinical psychologist Dr. Donald Beal on the brigade. Beal is a community partner of STSG and it was his first time attending one of the STSG brigades when he went in August.

"Dr. McGavran and I worked a lot with couples and resolving many relationship issues," Beal said about his time in Ecuador. "There was one instance where I talked to a husband and she talked with his wife in separate sessions.

McGavran said she is planning to go back to Ecuador on the 2018 August brigade and hopes to bring graduate and undergraduate psychology students with her. Borie said he is thrilled about the psychology department's involvement and that STSG has plans to increase the number of psychology students participating in the brigades.

"We had so many questions about what to expect and how best to serve,” Borie said. "This first effort truly was exploratory... to say the least, the experience has been profoundly positive for both the community and the brigade participants."

Until McGavran's return on the next brigade, Vasconez said she will continue to work with the team at the CSHH clinic in helping those patients who do need therapy and mental help. 

"Myself and McGavran were able to teach the clinic team many methods of talking to patients to offer them mental relief," Vasconez said about her time with the CSHH clinic team. "I know they have a long way to go, but I will be working closely with them to help them continue to develop their clinical skills for the discipline."