We are pleased to put the spotlight on one of our valued psychologists, Dr. William “Bill” Gorman. Bill spent 25 years at the University of Illinois at Chicago, teaching and directing training and clinical services at the Counselling Center. He is currently a staff member at the Kovler Center in Chicago, working with victims of torture.
How did you get involved with Advocates Abroad?
I got involved with Advocates about a year ago as an extension of my long-time participation at the Kovler Center in Chicago working as a clinical psychologist with refugees and asylees in recovery from torture and related traumas. I was able to travel last year for almost a month on site in Athens and on Lesvos and Samos. While there, I began to contribute some formal written psychological assessments for Advocates’ clients for their hearings, which was similar to the work I do for asylum seekers in Chicago. In addition, I was able to provide some basic training workshops on Samos and in Athens for other volunteers, focusing on the helper’s role, interviewing skills, the effects and alleviation of trauma, and the risks of secondary trauma for the helper.
Together with several colleagues, I have been able to continue involvement remotely, providing assessment interviews and reports for clients’ hearings, as well as consultation and support for caregivers, both attorneys and interpreters.
What motivates you to work with refugees and victims of torture?
The motivation is basically one of responding to clinical, ethical, and even political concerns for this diverse and traumatized population with what psychological skills I can offer, and it probably began with my time in the Peace Corps in the 60’s. After working later at torture treatment centers in Nepal and Kurdistan, I was concerned with finding further ways to help out with the international refugee crisis for the simple reason of social justice, as I have seen to be the case with Advocates’ many other volunteers.
What mental health challenges do Advocates Abroad volunteers working in the field face?
Volunteers can face continuous exposure to narratives of terrible past and present hardships and the limited resources for helping in such a complicated, unstable, and often adversarial context. My colleagues and I have been particularly impressed by all the humanitarian dedication everyone in Advocates brings to such demanding work.
We also realize that despite their dedicated characters and altruistic idealism, helpers often fail to recognize sufficiently the toll such work can take on them. The consequences on caregivers can entail their own difficulties relaxing, sleeping, or keeping emotional balance, as they cope with chronic stress, isolation, feelings of frustration or inadequacy, irritability, exhaustion, or even more existential questions about meaning and value. Of course, just talking about it all with a psych consultant will not necessarily resolve such critical issues, but in our experience over the years, it can help to deal with them more effectively.
Therefore, we have valued our various involvements with Advocates in lending a hand to supplement the competencies, compassion, and even courage daily characterizing its engagements with so many in such dire straits. And finally, we are glad for the opportunity to continue to contribute to the work of Advocates Abroad.