Reflections by Adam Brooks: ASPIRE, Columbia University & the Tripodi Lecture

It has been six weeks since I started the PhD program at Columbia University School of Social Work (CSSW) and as a trainee in the ASPIRE project – a project led by Dr. Nabila El-Bassel & Dr. Neeraj Kaushal. During this time, I have worked alongside several master and PhD students, post-docs and faculty, attended the ASPIRE team’s regular Skype calls with Jordan and Turkey, delved into the literature on study design methodologies, and had the opportunity to attend lectures by global leaders in the field including the Tripodi Lecture. It has been a busy but engaging six weeks, and reminds me of why I wanted to join the ASPIRE team in the first place.

Part of why I was drawn to ASPIRE was because of my experience as the Community Support Program Director at Jewish Family Service of Western MA (JFSWM). I supervised and collaborated with a team of culturally diverse clinical and paraprofessional staff that provided a variety of services for refugees in Western Massachusetts. Our agency assisted refugees from several different countries including Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan and Syria and provided support during their initial resettlement and throughout the process of their integration to the surrounding community. The agency provided case management, adult English language assistance, employment readiness services, educational support for children, medical case management and psychological counseling. My work specifically focused in providing intensive community case management for at-risk refugees struggling with behavioral health and medical-related issues. 

Jewish Family Service of Western MA Centennial Event on October 6, 2016 – Photo Courtesy of JFSWM

Jewish Family Service of Western MA Centennial Event on October 6, 2016 – Photo Courtesy of JFSWM

As a licensed Clinical Social Worker, providing behavioral health services for at-risk refugees provided me with a glimpse into the struggle many refugees experience during their journey to the US. Many refugees exposed to trauma(s) and those subsequently diagnosed with trauma-related illnesses such as PTSD, depression and anxiety struggled to adjust to their new country. Many had to balance resettlement stressors (i.e. obtaining and holding a new job, learning a new language or managing a budget) with an added burden of a mental illness. My passion to assist refugees was further fueled during the global refugee crisis and the Syrian civil war, a war that resulted in 50% of the Syrian population to be displaced – the majority who are women and children (UNHCR Global Trends). This war resulted in many Syrian refugees fleeing to neighboring countries such as Jordan and Turkey, where 655,000 registered (almost one out of every 10 people) Syrian refugees live in Jordan and over 3 million live in Turkey (UNHCR). With the magnitude of the global refugee crisis and the burden shouldered in many neighboring countries, I felt a need to readjust my focus to a global context; an opportunity I have as an ASPIRE trainee. 

My work at JFSWM also provided me with the opportunity to collaborate with a team of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers that were interested in conducting a Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) on mental health disparities among Bhutanese refugee youth. Like other research projects that use a CBPR methodology, I was impressed by the research team’s ability to involve Bhutanese community members and leaders, as well as local community organization within all levels of the research decision-making process. Being involved with this collaborative evidence-based implementation research was a big factor in pursuing a doctoral degree. It also highlighted the importance of providing a voice and giving power to populations that researchers are interested in.

Joining the ASPIRE team feels like a natural progression to combine my passion for refugee work, my seven years working in the behavioral health field, and my strong belief in evidence-based implementation research. This intersection was highlighted during the Tony Tripodi Lecture hosted by CSSW on October 2nd on Gender Based Violence (GBV) in global contexts. The lecture invited GBV specialist Elizabeth (Liz) Pender and Dr. Nabila El-Bassel and Dr. Anindita Dasgupta to discuss GBV issues in humanitarian settings. Hearing field experience from Liz Pender and her work in several humanitarian crises around the globe reiterated the need of social workers in humanitarian settings. It also highlighted how social work can provide a positive impact globally. Dr. El-Bassel and Dr. Dasgupta’s involvement with ASPIRE in Jordan and Turkey reiterated how important evidence-based research practice is in global settings. The insights provided by the speakers and the thoughtful questions asked by the CSSW student body reminded me of the importance of projects like ASPIRE, and the need to combine the work of a practitioners and a researcher.

(Left to Right) ASPIRE’s Drs. Dasgupta and El-Bassel join a panel with Tripodi Lecturer, Liz Pender (USAID), at the School of Social on October 2nd.

(Left to Right) ASPIRE’s Drs. Dasgupta and El-Bassel join a panel with Tripodi Lecturer, Liz Pender (USAID), at the School of Social on October 2nd.

Embedded in the Social Intervention Group (SIG), ASPIRE has complementedmy research goals as the mission of the SIG team is to develop and implement evidence-based sustainable solutions. I am truly fortunate to be working with a dedicated team of experts who can develop and then subsequently implement their research on a global scale. From my time with ASPIRE, I have learned a lot from our research partners both in Jordan and in Turkey who have a wealth of expertise in their country and within their field. Once completing my PhD, I hope that my work will focus on alleviating the burden of mental illness in refugee populations through evidence-based sustainable mental health interventions in both domestic and global settings. I look forward to our research in ASPIRE in the years to come and the impact that research programs like this will have on vulnerable populations.

Mohamad Adam Brooks.jpg

  Mohamad "Adam"        Brooks

   PhD Student at CSSW