Northwestern professor awarded grant to study mental health of Ukrainian refugees

Dr. Rachael Wittern, assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern College, will spend the next year collecting data on the mental health states of Ukrainian refugees living in the United States, thanks to a $3,000 Early Career Global Psychology Grant from the American Psychological Association.

Wittern first became aware of the need for psychological data on refugees while running a free, bi-weekly therapy group open to the more than 100 Ukrainian refugees living in Sioux County.

“In preparing for those meetings, I realized there is a lack of resources for those who want to work with Ukrainian refugees. While we have some data from Ukrainian refugees in Poland and Germany, no baseline data is currently available for Ukrainian refugees in the United States. I want to do something to change that,” says Wittern.

To collect that data, Wittern and her research team will develop an online survey with mental health screening and quality of life measures that have been translated into Ukrainian by bilingual mental health professionals. They will then assess potential factors related to mental health outcomes, such as demographics, feelings of loss and guilt, and spirituality/religiosity. Knowledge of these factors and their impact on refugees’ mental health will give psychologists a greater understanding of refugees’ needs, allowing for more specialized treatment.

Four Northwestern senior psychology majors will assist Wittern with her research. She plans to present her research findings in at least one conference for mental health clinicians, as well as submitting an article for peer-reviewed publication.

Prior to joining Northwestern’s faculty in 2022, Wittern served as a clinical psychologist with Veterans Affairs. She holds a doctorate in clinical psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary and has extensive training in various psychotherapy techniques, including trauma informed guilt reduction therapy (TrIGR), interpersonal psychotherapy for depression (IPT-D), eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR), and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).