Guatemala, International psychology, Thought Leadership

Charla with parents in Guatemala

panajachelAs I approached my final week of Spanish lessons with Maria, throughout our month together we had been engaging in ongoing conversations about the systemic challenges some people of Guatemala face. We would talk about the positives including the deep sense of community and family, the rich religious traditions as well as the areas of struggles including being a sexual minority and what that means, child labor, and the lack of comprehensive mental health systems…I listened intently and felt more connected to this community as Maria shared parts of her country with me (of course all in Spanish so I could continue to learn). Very early into our lessons, I shared with her my desire to give back to the community and to use my skills as a psychologist, but wanting to do this in a way that didn’t impose a western perspective.iglesia

She suggested that as my final exam for Spanish that I offer a talk or “charla” on parenting for a small group. This was simultaneously exciting and immensely anxiety inducing. Besides the idea of presenting the western concept of discipline to a small community of parents from San Juan La Laguna who primarily spoke Tz’utujil, I was being asked to do this in Spanish. I spent the week writing and re-writing what I wanted to share and then having Maria edit it for accuracy. We planned to have my talk on the porch of Maria’s home. She shared that they posted flyers and she was unsure how many people would be there. Of the many presentations I have given, I remember feeling that my knowledge and training in parenting didn’t really help me. Instead in some ways it felt limiting and limited…

The porch began to fill up mostly of women and one man who were eager to hear me talk. I knew immediately then I wanted this community to understand who was the expert in the area of parenting as they patiently waited for me to speak…they were the experts. As they introduced themselves, how many children they had and their ages…it was clear that collectively they had more experience raising children than I have had in all my training and education. As far as my Spanish final exam not sure I passed, most of my talk was given in Spanish (that was written out) which Maria translated into Tz’utujil and somewhere in between my English would creep in, which she would help me translate back into Spanish and then back to Tz,utujil – Maria was truly amazing!image

As I shared the meaning of discipline from a western perspective (there was no word for discipline in Tz’utujil), they presented their ideas of what it meant to them. I got a sense of what “it takes a village” meant in this community. The parents shared how the expectation for correcting and changing behavior of children is a responsibility that is placed on everyone in the community especially teachers in the schools. These lessons were further reiterated in the homes and religious spaces.  Although nothing new, this blending of roles across contexts seems to provide consistency for the children. I ended my charla with having them participate in role plays practicing parenting with and without using positive discipline (in a way that felt meaningful for them)…nothing momentous, just real. This was my grassroots international psychology experience.

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Liberation Psychology, Rwanda, Thought Leadership, Trauma Treatment


The leadership team of ISP International has deep experience and passion for international psychology and liberation.  Our paths have crossed in meaningful ways and led us to combine our professional experiences and launch ISP International.

Today I will share how my path crossed with Dr. Sujata Regina Swaroop’s.  We were both eager students at the Chicago campus of The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.  Both of us entered graduate school with international relief work experiences and a cemented conviction to become International Psychologists.  Looking back I don’t think there was ever an option for us NOT to meet, connect, and dream together.


World Refugee Day. 2010. Chicago, IL

Rewind to the Rwandan Infastructure and Capacity Building Program that was chartered at our graduate school.  Naturally, both of us found our way to this program and delved into extensive literature reviews, meta analysis, and program development for this new train the trainer model.

At this time International Psychology and Human Rights was in the background of many graduate programs.  Psychology students who wanted to specialize in international psychology often struggled to find specific training opportunities in which to implement the research on human rights violations they were digesting academically.  Thus furthering the divide between ‘in the trenches’ practice and academia.

Luckily, for Dr. Swaroop and I, we entered graduate school already having extensive international programmatic experiences.  We were in the trenches first and pursued our doctorates second! Our friendship led us to collaborate together since 2008.  Below is the abstract of one of our peer-reviewed, published journal articles.  We wrote this together based on our work on the Rwandan Infastructure and Capacity Building Program.


Post-genocide Rwanda illustrates the damaging effects of colonialism, systematic oppression, and the need for transnational trauma interventions for continental and African people in the Diaspora. This paper is rooted in a phenomenological understanding of Rwandan trauma and healing experiences, which focuses on examining healing narratives of those who were impacted by the 1994 genocide. Findings will highlight the gaps in Western bio-medical interventions, underline indigenous trauma experiences, and incorporate Liberation Psychology as a treatment foundation for Rwandan trauma survivors.

Complex Trauma: A Critical Analysis of the Rwandan Fight for Liberation

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Thought Leadership, Uncategorized

Bahia, a terra eu amo! (Bahia, land I love !)


Having caught the ‘travel bug” early in life, I’ve made it a priority to explore the world by any means necessary.  Typically that has translated into sleeping on many cold floors, going without water (and showers!) and growing a mutual respect for exotic bugs.  In fact, after experiencing resort life and the glory of all-inclusive piña coladas, I’ve realized that I prefer the type of travel that forces me to step outside of my comfort zone.

For my dissertation I was given the unique opportunity to examine the intimate dynamic between spirituality and psychological healing.  In June 2009, I packed my bags and traveled as a research assistant to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil.  Our small research team set out to examine the healing effects of Candomblé, a West African derived religion, for Afro-Brazilian trauma survivors.  We were specifically interested in how Afro-Brazilians who practice Candomblé construct meaning of their traumatic experiences and overall healing practice.  As a child of a Jamaican immigrant, the expression of non-Western healing experiences was quite familiar to me.


Upon arrival, I immediately felt that this international excursion would be drastically different than my previous adventures.  Immediately, I fell into the rhythm of my beautiful surroundings.  The constant drumming and celebratory spirit was contagious and I could not help but cling to it.  I embraced the unknowns and all along, the process of therapy mirrored my journey: Observe, initiate new behaviors, link the unknown to the familiar and attend to intuition.

One particular moment that resonated deeply within me was during one of my qualitative interviews.  When I arrived at a popular Candomblé terriero in Bahia, I immediately felt that this house was different than the other houses we visited.  Previously, I was able to maintain a distance from myself and the subject matter.  Throughout this interview I became increasingly aware of my internal reaction while listening to the Mão de Santo openly share about her faith in a tangible manner.  Although my personal belief system is not Candomblé, I was captivated by her conviction as she elaborated on the healing effects of her faith.


It occurred to me that, for many, there is a fine line that separates psychological and spiritual healing.  In Bahia these two healing constructs are viewed as one in the same.  In fact, the majority of my clients in America conceptualize healing as a balance between mind, body and spirit.  Therefore, my awareness of diverse healing belief systems not only assisted me during my time in Brazil but it continues to inform my clinical practice.  I went to Bahia to discover the strength of spirituality, and found within myself the ability to connect with the human psyche.

My time in Salvador taught me that I am not simply an observer of clinical change but I am a participator, as well.  I was invited into a cultural and spiritual belief system that has a reality all of its own.  A reality that differs from my own but, nonetheless, I learned about the common human thread that binds us all together—spirit.  Not only did my spirit feel alive in that place but I also felt my perspectives of reality exposed, stretched and examined.  A type of psychology that is able to challenge the status quo that we unconsciously yield to and create a transformation within me from the inside out is what continues to drive my work in the international psychology field.

Thanks for reading,



Thought Leadership, Uncategorized

Privileging Indigenous Modes of Healing


We are dedicated to evidenced-based clinical practice and training.  However, we recognize that some human experiences can not be operationalized to fit into neat and organized research studies (e.g. love, joy, transcendent experiences).  These human experiences are critical protective factors following traumatic events.

ISP International is unique in the sense that we are Western trained Psychologists who openly admit that westernized trauma interventions all too often miss the mark when applied to non-Western communities. Our mission is to utilize our expertise to empower communities to tap into their inherent strengths and innate ability to heal themselves.

This fundamental belief was the foundation of my dissertation.  During the summer of 2009, I had the privilege to travel to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil alongside Chanté D. DeLoach, PsyD.


Here is an excerpt…

“We need a psychology that breaks our hearts, because only that kind of psychology could awaken us to our entanglements in strategies of dissociation, to the despairs of trauma, to grief from mourning, and to potential joy in restoration and healing” (Watkins & Shulman, 2008, p.31). Past research has focused on biomedical models for trauma interventions. The research focusing on indigenous modes of healing for trauma interventions is limited despite the large amounts of focus on trauma within the field of psychology. This investigation seeks to highlight the phenomenology of Candomblé as a mode of healing from complex trauma responses in Afro-Brasilians. Participants were recruited in Bahia, Brazil with the help of a Portuguese cultural and language interpreter to participate in semi-structured, personal interviews. This investigation proposes that, liberation psychological approaches to trauma interventions support the use of traditional modes of healing as an appropriate and effective intervention for complex trauma.

The full published article on the findings of my dissertation is linked below.

African Spiritual Methods of Healing

I will post another blog about my personal transformative experiences while in Brazil in a couple of days.

Thank you for reading,