Soulaje Lespri Moun Presents at the American Psychological Association Convention in DC
by Leah James
In early August, Roger Noel and Jacques Solon Jean joined me (Leah James) in Washington DC to give a presentation at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association. Our talk focused on the development, implementation, and evaluation of Soulaje Lespri Moun (SLM – Relief for the Spirit), a lay mental health worker project housed by the AFD. Roger, the project manager, Solon, the project psychologist, and I have worked closely over the past year and a half with a dedicated team of Ajan Sante Mantal (lay mental health workers) to provide coping skills seminars for residents of camps for internally displaced peoples (IDP camps) in Port-au-Prince. The Ajan have worked in 7 camps, with nearly a thousand residents, providing education about natural disaster safety and common responses to stress and trauma, and teaching relaxation techniques and other coping strategies. Participants in the seminars are given exams, and if they pass, receive certificates. They are then prepared to run their own support groups for other camp residents. This model allow for time- and cost-efficient dissemination of information. We have also found that for camp residents to re-engage with their own stressful and traumatizing situation with new skills and in a helping role has therapeutic properties in itself.
Our presentation was very well-received, and we met many interested and enthusiastic people. Although thirteen thousand people from all over the world attended the conference, Roger and Solon were the only attendees from Haiti and were honored to represent their country and the AFD. They were always surrounded by curious people asking them about their experiences and expertise. In addition to our main presentation, we were also asked to give a conversation hour for Division 56 (the trauma division) of the APA. Roger and Solon had been awarded funding from Division 56 and from the APA’s International Office – we were very thankful for their support and warm reception. We now have many new friends and collaborators, including two Haitian-American doctoral students.
The trip was not entirely business – this was Roger and Solon’s first visit to the US, so we were sure to do plenty of sightseeing as well. We visited the White House, the Washington Monument, the Natural History museum, saw a 3-D showing of Captain America, and ate as many different kinds of food as we could find. Solon’s favorite was burritos, while Roger liked sushi and Ethiopian food. A successful trip on all accounts!
Note: Presentations about SLM have also been accepted at the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) in Baltimore and the Caribbean Regional Conference of Psychology in the Bahamas, both in November 2011.