Bringing psychology back home

With only two psychologists and six psychiatrists to serve its 42 million residents, the East African nation of Tanzania—which faces poverty, inadequate access to education and health care and growing rates of HIV/AIDS, among other problems—has barely been able to make a dent in its mental health needs.

Thanks to Rehman Abdulrehman, PhD, that is starting to change.

Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman (behind students)"Bringing psychology to bear on the mental health problems of the Tanzanian people is something I've wanted to do for a long time," says Abdulrehman, who left the country when he was 7 and is now an assistant professor in the department of clinical health psychology at the University of Manitoba's faculty of medicine. "To watch it come to fruition is a dream come true."

Abdulrehman is working on several fronts to make that happen. For one, he is teaching the first-ever program in clinical psychology at the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Dar es Salaam, which houses the largest hospital in Tanzania. He just finished Tanzania's first cognitive behavioral group therapy program, targeted to men with anxiety disorders, and is planning similar programs for women with anxiety disorders, adults with depression and children.

In addition, he and his seven psychology trainees—most of them natives of Tanzania who left jobs in government and academe to pursue the doctoral-level degree—are working at a local orphanage to assess and treat former street children who suffer from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Eventually, his trainees will train and supervise other mental health workers, so that psychological tools are made available as widely as possible.

Abdulrehman's work is made possible in part by a nonprofit organization he helped to found, HumanTree, where artists and photographers—including Abdulrehman himself, who's an award-winning photographer—donate their work. Anyone can purchase it, and all profits go directly to charitable work, including Abdulrehman's work in Tanzania. Funds from the organization have provided modest salaries for the orphanage's caregivers; provided transportation so the psychology trainees can work at the orphanage; and sponsored a book drive that will bring psychology and psychiatry textbooks into Tanzania, an effort run by HumanTree's cofounder and one of Abdulrehman's brothers.

For Abdulrehman, the work is a remarkable opportunity to give back to his country of origin and to people in need. "My parents left Tanzania because they wanted a better education for my brothers and me," he says. "And now, ironically, I'm going back to help educate psychology students and to disseminate some of the wonderful tools that our field offers."

—T. DeAngelis

 View a slideshow of Abdulrehman's photos of Tanzania.

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  • The American Psychological Society awarded Ellen Berscheid, PhD, and Elaine Hatfield, PhD, the 2012 William James Awards for lifetime contributions to psychology. Hatfield is a professor of psychology at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa and Berscheid is Regents Professor at the University of Minnesota.

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  • Florida State University named Garnett S. Stokes, PhD, as its new provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. Before her appointment, Stokes chaired the department of psychology at the University of Georgia for five years and served as dean of the university's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences for seven years.

—C. Wilson