I’ve been in Ghana, West Africa for the past two weeks on an exploratory visit in hopes of learning from professionals here and setting up collaborative relationships to benefit one another. While they face outrageous challenges to include blatant societal stigma and lack of funding, respect, and support, the mental health professionals I met in Ghana clearly demonstrate best practices I wish were more prevalent back in my own country. I’d like to share some of these with you.
I travelled to Ghana in late February and met up with my fellow doctoral International Psychology students and our professor, Dr. Patricia “Trish” Perez, from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Our primary purpose has been to learn from Ghanaian mental health professionals and about Ghana in general. Programs and facilities we visited included the Accra Military Hospital, the Accra Psychiatric Hospital, Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Lincoln Community School, the Medical Women’s Association, New Horizon Special School, Street Girls Aid, the University of Ghana, USAID, and representatives from social work efforts to include prevention of child sexual abuse and research in religious and spiritual practices.
I could easily devote an entire blog to what I learned from and about each of these visits. For the sake of brevity, I’ll choose several sites and best practices to showcase here in this blog. I encourage comments or emails if you’d like more information, have additional questions, or would like to share an interest in the possibility of getting involved with these organizations.
First I must tell you about the joyful and uplifting environment our group encountered at the New Horizons Special School in Accra. This school was started in 1972 to provide higher quality social and learning opportunities for both children and adults with special needs. I can say without a doubt this has been accomplished. We were met with confidence, smiles, and laughter from the students, no doubt thanks to the strategic ability placement in their classes and the talent-emphasizing activities and lessons.
There was no emphasis placed on forcing students to fit into an unnatural mold of “sit and be still at your desk” or “sit in front of a computer all day.” Instead, I saw a celebratory-style opening assembly for the school day, arts, music, freedom to speak and express oneself, and vocational training to build upon existing talents of the students. All of this has been created and sustained by a handful of teachers, volunteers, and in-house trained staff—without any government support or funding. They would love to bring this educational reality to more special needs students, however there is lack of funds and support to increase staff or take in more students at this time.
Next I must mention the inspiring psychology educators at both the Korle Bu Teaching School and the University of Ghana. As soon as we walked into one office, we faced a bookcase stacked with masters-level theses containing valuable research endeavors and ideas. However, we soon learned that due to lack of funding and support, they unfortunately sit stagnant despite the immense desire to further the research and tackle mental health issues in their country. The level of knowledge, expertise, and adaptability quickly became impressive as we listened to how these professionals navigate around societal and systemic obstacles such as domestic violence, having to alter and adjust Western assessment tools and educational/theoretical models, and counterproductive laws such as the imprisonment of people who attempt suicide.
On our worst of worst days professionally, we do not face the dramatic professional obstacles that the Ghanaian mental health care professionals face. True, we face some, but the majority of our society does not feel that our clients are being “punished” or “cursed” by God or others due to their sins or sins of their family members. People do not disrespect us for working with “those” individuals or think we are wasting our time. We have large groups of like-minded individuals, we have supporters, we have funds and research grants, we have local, state, and national organizations. Ghanaian mental health care professionals are few in number and yet they stand tall and strong to champion the mental health care needs in their areas of expertise.
It truly humbled me and provided me with a perspective I did not have prior to my time here. We have so much available to us as mental health care professionals in the U.S. and yet as a whole we aren’t making the most of it in truly meeting the needs of our clients and patients. I think we sometimes pay too much attention to the “stuff:” the theories, the techniques, the medications, the diagnoses…and not enough attention to connecting to the individuals in front of us.
As some of the first professionals in this emerging field of International Psychology, our primary goal is to see worldwide mental health care issues through the lens of global citizens and to truly collaborate and with fellow professionals from all parts of the world. Our time spent here in Ghana has provided us the opportunity to do just that. I encourage you to go online and check them out so you can see the amazing things they are doing to enhance your own best practices.
Natosha Monroe is a counselor and PhD candidate passionate about increasing Troop access to counseling services. Her blog contents are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense in any way.