Kari O’Grady, Ph.D., assistant professor of pastoral counseling at Loyola University Maryland, travels to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 23-Aug. 5 to learn about the role spirituality plays in the lives of the survivors of last winter’s devastating earthquake as well as the volunteers aiding in the relief efforts. While there, she and a Loyola doctoral student will also offer a workshop to local clergy, who are often the primary mental health providers in Port-au-Prince.
O’Grady is chronicling her experiences in a blog.
“I serve on the pastoral counseling Certificate in Spirituality in Trauma committee, as well as teach courses on spirituality in trauma and crisis intervention. I’ve also worked clinically with trauma victims, veterans, and those who have endured domestic violence and loss of loved ones, but this is my first big research project in disaster relief,” said O’Grady, who joined Loyola this year after completing her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology at Brigham Young University. “When the earthquake happened in Haiti, something in my heart called me there.”
O’Grady’s research focuses on the influence of individuals’ relationships with God or a higher power on their response and recovery from traumatic events. While in Haiti, she hopes to better understand how spirituality has helped those affected by the earthquake to cope with their circumstances in the weeks and months since the disaster. “In general, Haitians are a very spiritual people,” she said. “Most Americans believe in a higher power as well, but it’s more subtle in its expression. American spirituality also tends to be more achievement spirituality, whereas Haitian spirituality is more of a survivalist spirituality, rich in outward expression.”
O’Grady’s interactions with men, women, and children affected by the earthquake will help her hone her workshop for clergy, a critical component of her project. “There is very little mental health support available in Haiti. Clergy, who are often the first line of contact in these communities, fill that role, but generally without adequate training,” she said.
O’Grady’s work has been coordinated with the Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Haiti.
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