Psychology Across Cultures
Alumna Establishes First Mental Health Department in Kuwaiti Hospital.
Dr. Atorina Benjamin (MA ’05, PsyD ’09) grew up in Kuwait, one of many Middle-Eastern countries that had historically stigmatized mental illness and the field of psychology. However, by the time she completed her doctoral program and returned to her home, the culture had evolved enough to accept the profession. However, because job prospects in this area were still slim, Benjamin decided to create her own opportunities.
Benjamin learned about a new hospital that was opening, Al-Seef Hospital. She contacted the medical director there to inquire about positions in their mental health department. She was only halfsurprised to find out that that had not been a consideration. Fortunately, the medical director was open to hearing a proposal for such a division, and so Benjamin got to work, preparing binders of her PowerPoint presentation, her curriculum vitae, and a manual that she had compiled for her dissertation.
The hospital administrators could not help but be impressed with Benjamin’s gusto and accomplishments, and they immediately asked her to join their team and run the mental health department at the hospital. Benjamin is now the first psychologist to practice in a private-sector hospital in Kuwait.
“Kuwait experiences issues that are very similar to those I treated while living in the United States,” said Benjamin. “Mood disorders such as anxiety and depression are also prevalent in this culture. In addition, children’s issues such as ADHD, developmental disorders, and behavioral disorders are quite common. I also expect to see patients that have body-image concerns. This topic is of special interest to me, as my dissertation was on the subject of body dysmorphia in adolescents. Finally, I also hope to work with the hospital dietitian and surgeons to provide mental health evaluations to patients who undergo weightloss surgeries, and since this hospital has a large infertility clinic and obstetrics department, I am sure I will be seeing patients with issues related to infertility and postpartum depression.”
Benjamin has already begun seeing patients on an inpatient and outpatient basis, and has been pleased by the receptivity of the clientele.”
It was a big advancement to use signage to direct patients to the clinic because, due to the cultural stigma, we expected people to feel embarrassed if they were seen entering a psychology clinic. However, because the clinic is on a floor with multiple departments, patients are afforded some privacy. Interestingly, we have had many patients who have come to see the specialists in the other departments but who have come by to set up appointments after seeing our signs.”
Among Benjamin’s many challenges are determining a system for appropriate recordkeeping in order to maintain patient confidentiality, provide psycho-education to the public, and attempt to decrease the negative perceptions around mental illness. “I am very much aware of the magnitude of this task,” she admitted. “But I believe that individuals will try to be open-minded, in part because they are interested in Western phenomena such as mental health care systems, and in part because it is a new service that may be helpful when other interventions may not have been successful or positive experiences.”
The hospital staff has certainly been supportive of this initiative, placing advertisements for the mental health division in local publications and referring patients to the department. Benjamin has also been supported as an individual, having been invited to be interviewed by the local newspaper and to join the hospital’s quality improvement committee. Because the hospital runs a student health clinic at a local university, the university even asked Benjamin if she would spend one day per week meeting with students in need of mental health treatment on campus. Benjamin is also participating in the hospital’s continuing education series in which she will present about the “Facts and Myths of Psychology.”
“It is my hope that these types of activities will support my larger goal of educating the community about the benefits of mental health care,” said Benjamin. “I am aware of the cultural implications of developing this program in this setting, but I am in the best position to pursue this effort due to my familiarity with the people and the lessons I received at Pepperdine emphasizing cultural sensitivity. Pepperdine provided me with a well-rounded education, honing my skills as a clinician and teaching me to lead a life of ‘purpose, service, and leadership.’ I believe that my work supports this mission, and I feel blessed to be able to fulfill this goal so early in my career.”
To learn more about Al-Seef Hospital, visit: www.alseef-hospital.com.