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Students, Professor Train Therapists in Haiti

By Rachel Judy | August 8, 2012

Thanks to a substantial grant from the Equitas Foundation, Regent University's Child Trauma Institute is undertaking a therapy and research project with Restavek children in the Port-au-Prince area of Haiti.

From July 22-27, Dr. Donald Walker, director of the Child Trauma Institute, led a team of three students to Haiti to train local Haitian therapists who work with children who have been rescued from trafficking. They worked closely with colleagues from Wheaton College and University of Notre Dame, Haiti.

The students accompanying Walker were second-year Psy.D. students Katlin Knodel and Katherine Partridge and first-year master's in Clinical Mental Health Counseling student Candace Wheeler.

In the impoverished nation of Haiti, there is a cultural practice of sending poor children from the countryside to live with families in the city. The idea is that the child will help around the house in exchange for food, shelter and education. What really happens, though, is that these children, called "Restavek" children (a Creole term that means "stay with"), face enormous workloads, isolation and frequent abuse.

"The experience has allowed me to learn how consultation works, learn a new therapy technique, and network with other psychologists and organizations with similar goals to my own," explained Knodel. "I feel that both the Haitian individuals we are working with, as well as our research team, are gaining valuable knowledge that will make a difference in the lives of many children."

The Child Trauma Institute—housed in the School of Psychology & Counseling—aims to serve as a leading voice in research, training and practice to understand the role of religious and spiritual faith in the prevention of and recovery from various forms of childhood trauma, particularly child abuse. The institute is believed to be the first and only research center in the country dedicated to studying the dynamics involved in child abuse from what the institute calls "a spiritually integrative psychological perspective."

"It was great to be able to talk with others (the board members and other organization leaders) about my experience as a student and seeing ways where, in the future, I can use my training to be able to help these people," said Partridge. "We were also able to see ways that we, as students, would be able to help now.

"Being a student in a program like Regents really helps develop the mindset that the education experience is not just about the individual learner but, more importantly, about the people that can be helped because of the research and work that you will do with your degree."

This trip, added Walker, as well as continued work under the grant, has a purpose higher than academia.

"Our trip to Port-au-Prince will not solve the world's problems, or even this entire problem," he said. "I pray that [Kaitlin, Katherine and Candace] remember what they saw and learned this week and carry it with them into their work with their own trainees in the future. For at least this week, we will not be silent."

Learn more about Regent's School of Psychology & Counseling.


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