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Expert Voices

Healing Hearts: A New Study Shows Positive Results for Karen Clients

Published July 12, 2018

Physicians caring for refugees in the United States face challenges as these patients are highly likely to have lived through traumatic experiences in the past. For those who have survived torture or war atrocities, it’s critical that three areas of well-being receive care: physical, mental health and social functioning. In order to heal from the traumatizing experiences that torture survivors have endured, appropriate care is key.

CVT has been exploring how integrated behavioral health care (IBHC) can effectively address these needs for a group of Karen refugee clients. A new paper titled “Integrated Behavioral Health Care for Karen Refugees: A Qualitative Exploration of Active Ingredients,” has been published in the International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care. Authors include Jennifer Esala, Ph.D., former CVT research associate; Leora Hudak, MSW, LICSW, psychotherapist; Alyce Eaton, former CVT research coordinator; and Maria Vukovich, Ph.D., research associate.

CVT calls this program “Healing Hearts, Creating Hope,” and since 2013 has used an interdisciplinary, team-based approach to bring specialized psychotherapy and targeted case management to clients in a primary care setting.

Clients are Karen from Burma, an ethnic minority from the eastern region of the country. Large numbers of Karen refugees are known to have been tortured, and the majority have experienced violence including capture, rape, beatings, threats, coercion and more.

“The article fills a knowledge gap by describing several advantages to integrating intensive behavioral health services into primary medical care for Karen refugees resettled in the United States,” commented Dr. Vukovich.  “Drawing on participants’ own voices and perspectives, the paper unpacks tangible ways that the Healing Hearts intervention addressed interconnected psychological, social and medical needs during resettlement.”

The experience of these clients is illustrated in their own words in the paper. “I find it so important when research amplifies voices that are too often silenced and marginalized,” said Leora Hudak. “The quotes that are included in the paper come directly from clients. What feels most important for me, as a psychotherapist and author, is that this article raises up the benefits of CVT’s work in our client’s own voices. Their words stand on their own.”

The Healing Hearts study was successful across a number of important criteria: participants increased their awareness and access to behavioral health services, increased their opportunity to have complex health conditions treated, and found a beneficial point of contact for care.

The full article can be purchased here.


 Photo credit: Dreamstime

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