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Center’s Theory of Change for Sustainable Development
The UN Secretary General’s slogan for a post pandemic world is Build Back Better. The SDGs provide a road map for doing so. But the SDG agenda mainly leaves out the essential items of culture and psychology. What makes for sustainable change is the inclusion of the psychological dimension and drawing from cultural diversity. Currently ‘modern’ means western, with a worldview and mindset based on the values of individualism, materialism, competition, a lack of strong sense of community and a separation from nature and each other, exploitation of nature for development and profit. This is leading to unsustainable societies with increasing social inequality and injustice on many fronts.
Sustainable Worldview: For a society to be sustainable it needs to be based on a sustainable worldview. From research in the social sciences including cross-cultural psychology, we know that social relations and social organizations based on the values of respect for diverse ways of being; human rights and race, class and gender equity; interdependence and community; cooperation and sharing; connection with and living in harmony with nature; all together promote healthy social and natural environments and peaceful, inclusive and dynamic societies.
Each culture could evolve its own version of modernity by choosing the cultural values and traditions it wants to integrate with current modern developments to forge a new society.
In order to build back better for sustainable societies we need the following model of change based on the three interlocking pillars of culture, psychology and sustainable development.
Community Mental Health Project in India
Background: A Fulbright project for Capacity Building for Suicide Prevention was carried out in 2016 and 2017 to try to tackle a growing suicide crisis in Sikkim, India. There was an urgent need for capacity building as there was a lack of mental health resources in Sikkim to deal with the crisis. There were very few psychiatrists and qualified clinical psychologists in the whole state with a population of about 600,000 people.
The capacity building project therefore conducted Suicide Prevention counseling training for lay people, students and community volunteers. It aimed to fulfill the need for effective mental health services by training non-specialists in psychosocial support and basic counseling skills. This is especially helpful in resource poor environments, where specialized care in mental hospitals is expensive or non-existent.
The capacity building project was just the beginning in tackling the problem. People usually prefer their local healing traditions to western counseling. An integration of both Western and traditional would be beneficial. The WHO (2013) mental health action plan recommends greater collaboration with "informal" mental health care providers, including families, as well as religious leaders, faith healers and traditional healers. In addition it recommends community based service delivery for mental health needs. These recommendations are in line with what came out of the Fulbright project, and highlight the need for more research on how to integrate traditional healers with treatment administered by Western trained mental health care professionals.
Diversity Project in the US
Urban Trauma Project – This project is focused on psychologically addressing the legacy of racism and discrimination. Additional projects will include diversity training programs to address racism, bias, and strengthen interethnic relations in a community. Since the Urban Trauma project already exists and is underway, it will be a solid initiative for the Center to take up in order to continue to develop and expand the project.
Urban Trauma is the psychological study of historical, biological, and environmental legacy of racism in urban centers. According to Dr. Akbar in her seminal and groundbreaking book, systemic trauma in our urban centers is a result of continuing poverty, overcrowded housing, poor physical and mental health, despair, violence, crime, and drug abuse all resulting from centuries of systemic racism. Understanding the complex experience of the African diaspora requires consideration of the impact of urban trauma on their health and mental health outcomes. Accepting the existence of this trauma passed on inter-generationally, gives communities of color a chance to heal and break this vicious cycle.
Dr Akbar’s clinical work in her integrated wellness clinic, focuses on developing innovative psychotherapeutic strategies for healing urban trauma by drawing from her own work and background in multicultural and clinical child and adolescent psychology.
The funding for the Center’s Diversity project will give Dr Akbar a chance to expand the Urban Trauma model and continue this essential healing work from the clinic into the wider community, helping to heal and build communities that have been fractured by the legacy of racism and institutional discrimination. Some projected ways in which to expand this crucial work is to first identify communities affected by urban trauma, and next run urban trauma healing groups and programs. This would require capacity building of community leaders and members, educators and social workers, in the strategies developed to start the recovery process to heal urban trauma. It would help cover the costs of training and implementation in order to more widely disseminate this approach.
In order to effectuate systemic change to promote healing and resiliency, those aforementioned community stakeholders above will need cultivation, organization, and training at multiple levels of staffing. This will be a strategic process of convening large and small groups ranging from executives to direct service providers. These efforts will ensure the grass roots work is being done in alignment with the Urban Trauma philosophy. Training of the theory and principles along with the practical training of how the work is done with individuals is the foundation of the program’s efforts and all levels of practice need to be fluent in order for model fidelity and project sustainability. This model based on the urban trauma approach can eventually be scaled up globally and applied to other cultural settings in culturally relevant ways.