Episode 9: Welcome to our podcast dealing with issues related to immigrants and refugees. In today’s episode, Executive Director Kevin Uyisenga and Louisville Psychologist Natalie Berry of Mandala House. Immigrants and refugees often deal with issues related to trauma, transition, assimilation and other issues. Dr. Berry has a practice focused on helping them to cope with these added challenges.
Meet Dr. Natalie Berry
Natalie earned her Master’s Degree in clinical psychology from Loyola University of Maryland. She completed her Doctorate in Psychology at Midwestern University in Illinois. She completed her Doctoral Internship at the University of Kentucky Counseling Center. Currently, she’s finishing her post-doctorate work at Mandala House. She works with individuals, families and couples, children and adolescents. She deals with a wide spectrum of mental health challenges with her patients.
Kevin comments that he has personally experienced some challenges related to his experiences, especially the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. He spoke candidly about this, in Episode 2 titled, “Kevin’s Story – The Heart behind the Mission.” He lost family members, lived in an orphanage and was homeless for a period of time. Many of the people being served by See Forward Ministries have experienced similar trauma and challenges along their personal journeys.
Common Mental Health Challenges for Immigrants and Refugees
Dr. Berry stresses that a person’s country of origin is an important factor. She needs to consider if the person is dealing with a forced displacement, war, persecution, political factors and a range of other reasons for them to have left their home country. Other factors are related to race, religion, social-group factors, etc. The process of displacement could also lead to trauma.
Resettlement is an important factor, as well. Learning to understand, adapt to and attempt to fit into this new American culture can be difficult for an individual and/or family. All of these issues can compound the stress and lead to mental health challenges.
Natalie goes on to list other factors that make it difficult for immigrants and refugees:
· Loss of family resources and support
· Loss of family members
· Language barriers
· Lack of medical care
· Lack of financial resources
· Lack of mental health services or the stigma associated with these services
For children, these factors can also be serious issues. Dr. Berry explains that children begin to develop a sense of ethnic identity when they are 4-8 years old. The disruption can prevent a child from developing an integrated sense of self. Add that to the above factors and consider a child may not know how to process or communicate what he/she is feeling. It’s a particular challenge many of us don’t fully understand, because we haven’t shared those experiences.
Dealing with Trauma-Related Issues
Dr. Berry explains that when it comes to trauma, mental health professionals need to consider the impact of both trauma that was physically experienced and trauma that was seen by the individual. Both types of trauma can have serious impacts on the immigrant or refugee. She reminds us that this can look different for adults and adolescents. How that trauma is processed is also different.
The processing of the experience doesn’t generally happen as the trauma occurs. It’s usually days, weeks and even years later. The PTSD can lead to behavioral problems, especially for children and adolescents.
Kevin discusses how See Forward Ministries has developed a series of programs to address some of the challenges encountered by immigrants and refugees. Unfortunately, some of the experiences can lead to depression and isolation. This can lead to the individual’s belief that maybe he/she should have never left the refugee camp. It can be due to that severed sense of feeling connected. Again, See Forward Ministries is mindful of the risk and is working to help members of the community.
Is the Grass Really Greener?
For some who immigrate or come to the US as a refugee, difficulties assimilating to the new culture can be difficult. Initially, it may not seem that the promise of the American experience will be theirs to achieve. It may be due to a lack of understanding how to access the available resources. Again, See Forward Ministries is trying to bridge that gap on a local basis through its community-building programs.
Dr. Berry describes “acculturative stress.” It’s the process of leaving a home country or predominate culture. It’s the result of having difficulty fitting into the new culture and surroundings. She explains the pressure immigrants and refugees commonly experience. They have the feeling of living in two worlds. They don’t want to let go of their culture, but are unsure of how to fully embrace the new culture; or if they actually want to in the first place. Many don’t want to let go of their home culture and that’s okay. It’s a delicate balance.
Kevin explains how the children face an interesting challenge. They may want to fully embrace the new culture and experience, while their parents don’t want them to toss aside “who they are.” It presents a difficult situation and can often add stress to the family dynamic. Dr. Berry understands this on a personal level. Her father came to the US from Lebanon and her mother from Liberia. She, herself, is a second-generation American who understands that process of developing a sense of self.
Dr. Berry adds that therapy is important to navigating the particular challenge of “living in 2 worlds.” She recommends engaging with a culturally competent therapist, who is familiar with the particular situation and can express that this is normal and they’re not alone.
Tips to Help with the Process
Natalie and Kevin recommend a few tips to help those struggling with one or more of the challenges discussed in this episode.
· Take advantage of community resources
· Talk openly about your situations and feelings
· Get involved to make friends and avoid feeling isolated
· Find small ways to let go of the day-to-day pressures and live life
What is Mandala House?
Natalie describes Mandala House as a community of clinicians and mental healthcare providers working as a team. They serve a very diverse population and address a wide-range of mental health issues.
For more information about Mandala House
Phone: (502) 309-2408
We’d like to thank Dr. Natalie Berry for joining us in the studio today. If you’re interested in helping with this effort, as Executive Director Kevin Uyisenga says, “Join Us!”
See Forward Ministries is a non-profit organization founded to be a bridge between those who are settling in our area and members of our community who may have an interest in getting involved, learning about different cultures and making this transition a little easier.
This podcast provides a platform for listeners to learn about this organization and the people who are involved with it. If you’ve ever thought about learning more about different cultures, this is an excellent opportunity. Please SUBSCRIBE to our podcast, so you get notifications each time a new episode is launched. Our plan is to launch a new one every 2 weeks.
Visit www.SeeForwardMinistry.com for more information. We’re also on various social media platforms. Let’s connect!