WA state psychologists to train volunteers in Poland who in turn will support Ukrainian refugees

A week after Russia’s full-scale invasion, the United Nations reports a million refugees have fled Ukraine.

The humanitarian crisis is only deepening with many families walking for miles to cross the border with just the clothes on their back.

A group of local psychologists are now answering a request to travel to southeastern Poland to provide trauma-informed behavioral health training to hundreds of volunteers.

"A few of my colleagues and I were connected with one of the professors at a university in southeastern Poland in Lublin," said Dr. Kira Mauseth, Senior 
Instructor at Seattle University. "He invited us to come and deliver the Health Support Team (HST) training curriculum to as many interested volunteers, students and faculty as we could collectively drum up together. These are going to be Ukrainian volunteers, Polish students and volunteers and faculty members from the University."

Mauseth will be joined by Dr. Tona McGuire. Both Mauseth and McGuire are the Co-Leads for the Behavioral Health Strike Team for the WA State Department of Health throughout the pandemic. The two also co-developed the HST Disaster Behavioral Health Training.

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Dr. Eric Bruns is also part of the team heading for Poland. He’s a Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine and initiated the current project to train first responders for those seeking refuge from the war in Ukraine.

"The goal of the trip is to provide the HST curriculum that is adapted based on local language and customs and norms about how behavioral health support should be given and administered," said Mauseth. "We’re going to do a lot of ‘Train the Trainer,’ give them the materials and allow them to adapt the materials in a way that’s culturally the most appropriate for the communities that they’re supporting."

The HST curriculum will cover four steps including listening and learning to engage and understand a person’s story, providing tools and offering direct support and techniques, recognizing healthy boundaries and emphasizing hope.

According to Mauseth, disaster trauma tends to be very sudden and somewhat unexpected. 

"The necessity of packing up what little you can carry on your back and leaving your home, which you may have lived in your entire life, hopefully taking your pets with you, figuring out how to feed and clothe your children on a multi-mile walk to a border," said Mauseth. "The level of disruption, fear and trauma that comes with that level of neurological activation, stress and adrenaline that comes with transitioning from day-to-day life to survival mode is completely up ending to a lot of people."

Mauseth said another important part of the training will be validating the experience for refugees fleeing Ukraine.

"Recognizing and teaching people within that community what’s normal for their brain and body, why it is they can’t control their heart rate and why they’re having trouble sleeping, headaches and stomach aches, all the regular symptoms that come with that," said Mauseth. 

Mauseth said the program has been delivered to support people in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and in Jordan to support Syrian refugees.

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Dr. Kira Mauseth providing disaster behavioral health training in Haiti.

"I believe in resilience. I see it, and doing this type of work gives me the opportunity, personally and professionally, to see the amazing things humans are capable of even under the most horrific and tragic of circumstances," said Mauseth.

The team will leave for Poland on March 25. The University in Lublin is hosting them, but their expenses are coming out of their own pockets.

A gofundme campaign has been launched if you’d like to support the behavioral health specialists train up a few hundred volunteers to support Ukrainian refugees.

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