Psychologists in Poland to support Ukraine refugees

A team of psychologists, including two from UW Medicine, arrived in Poland today (March 26) to help establish a system to care for refugees who have fled Ukraine amid the invasion of Russian armed forces.

“[The goal is] to provide skills for individuals as young as 15 around how to help others think about their own response to their thoughts and their behaviors,” said Eric Bruns, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He helped initiate the effort by connecting with a Polish colleague within days of the invasion.

Dr. Eric Bruns leads a training session in Poland.

“The health effects and mental health effects are long-lasting. So it's important to find ways to get in there and tap into that resiliency that folks have and mitigate some of these effects as effectively as we can,” Bruns said.

The focus of the Health Support Team is to teach volunteers basic skills to respond to the mental health needs of individuals forced from their communities. As of March 25, the United Nations reported that some 3.7 million refugees have left Ukraine, more than 2.2 million of whom have entered Poland.

To amplify the team's impact, some instruction will aim to enable Polish professionals to train future generations of volunteers on the same disaster-response care model.

The training regimen was developed by Tona McGuire, a former UW clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and Kira Mauseth, a psychology instructor at Seattle University. McGuire and Mauseth are working alongside Bruns this week in Lublin, Poland, about 60 miles west of the Ukraine border. Rounding out the five-person team is Robin Smith, a Seattle-based mental health counselor, and Sharon Hoover, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Art of Ukrainian children who are seeking refuge in Poland. (Shared by Eric Bruns)

Bruns says services for children and schools are a priority of the mission. Data from the United Nations Children's Fund shows at least 1.8 million children have fled Ukraine in the past month.

“We're going to not just have Ukrainian refugee children being absorbed into these schools in eastern Poland, but we've had shelling as close as 10 miles to the Polish border at this point. So you can imagine there is a lot of anxiety and a lot of stress right now in those schools among all the students,”  Bruns said.

Access broadcast-ready video assets on the Health Support Team's goals and plans in Poland.

UW Medicine