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Chicago School of Professional Psychology Introduces International Psychology PhD

The program offers a unique degree with two areas of concentration: Organizations and Systems, and Trauma Services.

By Amena Hassan

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology announced the nation’s first PhD in International Psychology in response to the growing mental health needs addressing trauma in countries across the world. The program offers a unique degree with two areas of concentration: Organizations and Systems, and Trauma Services. Relevant to professionals not only in psychology, but also those in the fields of healthcare, law, and the clergy, graduates can eventually work with organizations such as the United Nations, UNESCO, NGOs like Doctors without Borders, Aid Agencies, the American Red Cross, service groups like Catholic Charities and multinational corporations. Independent consulting and training are other options for graduates, in addition to university teaching positions.

Robert Clark, PhD, Chairperson and professor at the International Psychology Department described the program as a first of its kind doctoral program anywhere in the world. “The International School Psychology Association’s central office resides here at The Chicago School,” Clark stated. “Graduate students who so desire will have an opportunity to interact with professionals from all over the world at a level not possible for a person so new to the profession.” The combination of “face-to-face” and online work are part of the program, along with two intensive weekend residencies at the Chicago campus of The Chicago School. There are two concentrations with separate admissions criteria: Trauma Services and Organizations & Systems. The two field experiences will, in most instances, take place at selected sites and with partner agencies/ organizations outside the United States. These sites will comprise those already established by The Chicago School in such locations as Peru, China, and the Middle East. Other sites and partner relationships are under development.

Clark noted that The Chicago School program is consistent with APA’s guidance on international interventions in disaster, in particular that psychologists should serve as consultants and trainers but not give direct services. “We are aware of APA’s guidance in this matter and, in part, this is why we have designed the program as a non-licensure, academically focused degree,” Clark said. “Our field experiences are designed such that program students interact with site-based professionals in the countries selected and not directly with client groups in a therapeutic relationship.” For the field experiences, each student will have a signed contract incorporating learning objectives, expected outcomes, supervisory relationships, and a list of prohibitions for each specific field placement site. Supervision in field placements will be conducted by The Chicago School faculty and professionals in the field sites and/or partner organization. “We anticipate that some program students will already be working in trauma settings or other international organizations,” he added.

One of the integral designers of the program, Dr. Yael Danieli, distinguished professor of international psychology at The Chicago School, pointed out that additional professions including law enforcement and “international protectors” such as peacekeepers and humanitarian aid workers could also benefit from the program. “With international work we assume it [the study of trauma] is taken care of but we don’t always assure that it is,” stated Danieli. “What motivated me is a long history of conviction that victims of trauma need to be treated by people who are specifically prepared to do so.”

Danieli, a prominent figure in the field of international psychology and particularly trauma studies, stressed the need for service providers to gain expert training in helping victims
of trauma. As president of the International Society for Stress Studies she commissioned the society to create curricula for training in all professions related to interfacing with victims and also established an award for young professionals for the same purpose. In addition to teaching and research and leading seminars in other countries, Danieli has an extensive background in helping holocaust survivors and has done research and work in Bosnia and Rwanda. She also worked as a therapist to families of September 11th victims in New York. She says that the PhD in international psychology is devoted to exploring international concerns regarding trauma that span multiple cultures. She would like the program to expand and develop regional centers of learning in multiple countries, and to develop centers that attend to indigenous groups.

“I would like this to become a solid and excellent place of learning, teaching, and training and I want this to become a beacon for the right kind of learning in the right places,” she stated. “It should be there to service people in need from multiple cultures and diverse races and places of living.” She described how when she first came into the field, in the 1960’s, there was no awareness of the need for specialized treatment and training for people who worked with trauma. “The field was created in part to compensate for that lack and being one of those who have been there from the beginning, I have always been committed to fulfilling that need. It would be absolutely wonderful to now have an academic home, particularly for psychologists but also others, where they could devote themselves to being trained for that purpose, in a respectful and dignified way.”

When asked why a PhD program had not been created earlier, Danieli described how some reasons are intrinsic to the profession and are also due to a traditionalism that maintains a reliance on certain methods. While some schools have included coursework on topics such as peace psychology, peace building, conflict resolution, and mediation, it is usually as a track study within a traditional psychology PhD or Master’s program. The Chicago degree program, she believes, provides a more focused recognition. “People naively assume that just getting a PhD prepares you for anything, not understanding that this specific focus takes not only a chunk of knowledge but a psychological preparation that is not necessarily provided across the board,” said Danieli. I think it [the program] is a sign of maturity and openness and perhaps a sign of connectivity to the world.”

The program, which is receiving widespread response, is now recruiting students for the start of the first classes in the fall of 2009. At this point the program is designed for full time working adults and there are no fellowships/assistantships that exist for the fall 2009 start date. The organizers are actively exploring possible funding options for scholarships for deserving students and post doctoral fellowship opportunities within the program and internationally. This is a post-masters training program and the program does not lead to clinical licensure as a psychologist for independent practice purposes. For more detailed information on the program and for links on how to apply, please visit The Chicago School’s website