Name of Innovative Program:
Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative
Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative (Lutheran Children and Family Service)
Name of Innovative Program Lead:
E-mail Address of Innovative Program Lead:
The Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative (PRMHC) is a group of resettlement agencies, clinical health providers, and arts organizations that connect refugees and immigrants to culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health care. The PRMHC frequently supports ethnic community members in designing strengths-based programming to help their peers process past trauma and current resettlement stress through clinical therapy, mental health screenings, support groups and community-building arts projects. A key component of the project is its use of community and ethnic folk art in healing programs, along with the transformation of a vacant storefront in Southeast Philadelphia to a community arts center. The multidisciplinary network of partners include: Lutheran Children and Family Service, Nationalities Service Center, HIAS and Council, Nemours Pediatrics, Belmont Center for Comprehensive Care, BuildaBridge International, The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, Jefferson Hospital’s Department of Family and Community Medicine, and Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services.
Creativity and Innovation:
Designing a project to address mental health and adjustment among refugee and immigrant families requires flexibility and creativity in both the presentation and delivery of interventions. Westernized ideas of behavioral health, trauma, and adjustment are frequently incompatible with the backgrounds, experiences and cultures of new immigrants. Language barriers also present problems.To reduce the stigma associated with treatment, the PRMHC utilizes multidisciplinary projects focused on building resilience, cultural inheritance, community-building, and environmental transformation. Guided by the voices of refugees, the collaborative partnered with the Mural Arts Program to convert an empty storefront in an immigrant-saturated neighborhood into a community-arts center. This opened the doors for refugee communities to become engaged in daily programming focused on healing through cultural art forms, including dancing, weaving, storytelling, cooking, writing, and clinical art therapy. By participating in creative healing programs, participants build the foundation of a new life while celebrating their cultural identity.
The PRMHC has proved itself a leader in improving behavioral health outcomes for refugees in the city. Beyond formalizing venues for alternative treatment and leading research endeavors, the PRMHC is spearheading the formation of an advisory committee for behavioral health providers interested in improving their services for immigrant and refugee clients. This group allows practitioners to share best practices, resources, and advocate for improved systems. The PRMHC is also leading a longitudinal Photovoice research study with Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals examining refugee mental health and adjustment through photography. Images and client stories were featured in an exhibition at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens that shared the stories and experiences of new refugees with over 10,300 individuals from across the world. The Collaborative’s work has been presented nationally as a model for innovative mental health care and the Photovoice research project won first place at a recent global health conference.
The PRMHC uses a collaborative model and connects a multidisciplinary network of partners who bring varied strengths and resources to the group. The project continues to build on strong relationships and monthly meetings held with resettlement agencies, hospitals, schools, businesses, social service providers, and artists who are embedded in immigrant communities. The PRMHC is promoting systemic change among mental health providers by organizing a network of clinical providers with expertise in working with immigrant clients. This group is dedicated to improving interpretation, referral networks and resources for non-English speaking families. The Collaborative is also working to implement a mental health screening tool developed for refugee clients in medical clinics across the city with global health programs. The integration of public art, creative projects, and workshops led by refugee artists highlight the importance of cultural preservation, empower minority groups, and encourage a lasting dialogue between immigrant families and American-born neighbors.
The PRMHC model could easily be replicated and expand to other communities as its successes stem from diverse partners and creativity when defining treatments for those served. The project’s innovative use of community based arts projects and “hope restoration” activities as a means to positive mental health outcomes has been overwhelmingly successful. These outcomes are not limited just to refugee clients, but also to disenfranchised populations or those with limited language abilities. Art therapy and creative interventions are non-threatening and culturally appropriate means of engaging children and families from all walks of life. Projects initially started for refugee clients, such as “mapping” one’s life, collages of photos, family portrait workshops, storytelling, ethnic crafting and creating life books all engage families and youth from a variety of backgrounds by encouraging participants to talk about their values, experiences, and family history in new and exciting ways.
Involvement in PRMHC programs has far exceeded initial projected goals. During year one, 76 youth and guardians from the Burmese, Bhutanese and Iraqi communities participated in clinical art therapy programs. Community-strengthening cultural projects reached over 200 families. The PRMHC’s work with Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program resulted in 8 murals and the conversion of a vacant storefront into an immigrant community center hosting therapy, community meetings, art workshops and ESL classes. These programs led to the discovery of traditional artists supported by the project, including weavers, dancers, musicians, and painters, who are eager to infuse lost traditions into their new homes. Clinically, two hospitals are in the process of implementing a trauma screening tool in clinics that see hundreds of refugee families annually. An advisory group of mental health providers interested in improving services for immigrants has also been established, with representatives from over 15 health and social service institutions.