Mental Health Experts Offer Support to Ukrainian Psychologists Through Virtual Sessions

When Dr. Oxana Bayer, a visiting Fulbright scholar in Duquesne University's Department of Psychology, first arrived on campus in January, she had no idea that her life would forever be altered by war.

When she learned of the invasion, Bayer mobilized Duquesne's mental health experts to identify ways to support her psychologist colleagues in Ukraine.

"Ukraine is my country, and I knew that showing solidarity was important," Bayer said. "I couldn't sit idle and do nothing. My idea was that if specialists here at Duquesne share their expertise, then, even on a symbolic level, my Ukrainian colleagues would feel supported."

The more than 13 million Ukrainians who have fled their homes since the Russian invasion are facing difficult and varying challenges, from homelessness and hunger to financial stress and the need for medical care. The impact of trauma can be visible via physical symptoms, but the mental health consequences are often more complex.

As the Ukraine crisis continues, mental health is the medical illness most often reported, and with Ukrainian psychologists trying to navigate how to provide psychological first aid while dealing with their own acute trauma, initiatives like Bayer's will help.

Joined by Psychology Professor Dr. Eva Simms and Associate Psychology Professor Dr. Jessie Goicoechea, Bayer co-hosted a series of Zoom sessions for Ukrainian psychologists during which they shared an adaptation of their Community Trauma and Resilience Care (CTRC) program to serve individuals with acute trauma. More than 35 psychologists from Ukraine, many of whom had already fled to neighboring countries, participated in that first Zoom session.

"It was evident that Dr. Bayer's colleagues in Ukraine were experiencing acute trauma themselves and yet continued serving clients, including combatants, in the midst of war," said Goicoechea, director of Duquesne's Psychology Clinic and the University's clinical psychology doctoral program. "Through our CTRC program adaptation, we've been offering expertise and trauma-informed approaches to help."

Today, sessions reach even more people, with the published recordings reaching thousands. As the Duquesne professors lead the virtual workshops on acute trauma, safety, combatant trauma, self-care and grief, Bayer translates for her Ukrainian colleagues. During the first Zoom sessions, Simms and Goicoechea often heard bombs in the background from the Ukrainian attendees.

"Solidarity was important," Simms explained. "For us, these sessions are a glimpse into the chaos of war. For our Ukrainian colleagues, perhaps it is a glimpse back into the stability that they had known months ago. There's been something powerful about coming together."

Adjunct Psychology Professor Benjamin Gaddes, a doctoral student in the clinical psychology program, said participating in the sessions was humbling.

"I learned so much about the deeper humanity of the work that psychologists do," said Gaddes.

"My experiences at Duquesne have equipped me to remain humble, to understand what I can offer, and-above all-to consistently show up and serve in the best way that I can."

Bayer, along with psychology experts from Duquesne, co-host the Zoom sessions every two weeks.

"We're talking to individuals thousands of miles away who we have never met before, and, at first, I didn't know whether or not our sessions would make a difference," Gaddes said. "But our Ukrainian colleagues have said 'thank you for showing that you care.' It means a lot to them that we are present, that we are vulnerable and that we prove that they matter to us."

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and horizon-expanding education. A campus of nearly 8,500 graduate and undergraduate students, Duquesne prepares students by having them work alongside faculty to discover and reach their goals. The University’s academic programs, community service, and commitment to equity and opportunity in the Pittsburgh region have earned national acclaim.

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