First Fulbright Exciting For GhafooriPublished: February 3, 2014
A Fulbright Specialist grant beginning this month has Advanced Studies in Education and Counseling’s Bita Ghafoori at the University of Crete.
Ghafoori, who joined the university in 2005 and is coordinator of CSULB’s Marriage and Family Therapy Program, will offer through June seminars, workshops and consultations in counseling to help advance Greek understanding of a national economic crisis that has dogged the nation’s economy since 2008.
“The goal is to better understand how the crisis is impacting the mental health of individuals in Greece,” she said. “I will host small groups of primarily graduate students and assist faculty to better understand the Greek health program which was not set up to accommodate the growing number of individuals in crisis. The University of Crete is the only institution in the nation that offers a master’s degree in health psychology.”
The Fulbright Specialist Program promotes linkages between U.S. scholars and professionals and their counterparts at host institutions overseas. The program awards grants to qualified U.S. faculty and professionals, ranging through various disciplines, to engage in collaborative two- to six-week projects that include lecturing, conducting seminars, teacher training, assessments and evaluations, special conferences or workshops, as well as collaborating on faculty development and curriculum or institutional planning. The Fulbright Program overall provides approximately 8,000 competitive, merit-based grants each year in more than 155 countries.
“This is my first Fulbright and it is very exciting,” said Ghafoori. “It is really amazing that I should receive such a wonderful opportunity.” Ghafoori’s research has taken her across the U.S. and Canada. “I don’t expect much of a language barrier at the University of Crete because most of the faculty and students already speak English,” she explained.
Ghafoori’s number one goal is the introduction of new teaching methods in terms of dealing with serious mental health issues linked to the nation’s economic crisis.
“The University of Crete is a research-based institution so my second goal is plenty of research,” she said. “I am interested in furthering the university’s ability to understand the impact of current economic conditions.”
The University of Crete prepares its students for a world where the suicide rate has doubled. “There is more depression and an increase in anxiety disorders,” she said. “Recent published studies have indicated that these spikes are due primarily to the stress the Greek people feel about not having jobs. It is a bleak outlook for the future of Greece and I want to be able to help students and faculty to have the right tools to offer effective mental health services.”
She feels one reason for her distinction is her expertise on mental health disparities in traumatized populations. “Studies have indicated an increase in violence and traumas in Greece,” she said. “In addition, I feel I was recognized as well for my direction of CSULB’s Marriage and Family Therapy program which combines experience in developing curriculum as well as working with faculty and graduate students.”
Before joining CSULB, Ghafoori was an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Francisco Fresno Medical Education Program and at the Veterans Administration Central California Healthcare System in Fresno. She earned her B.S. in biological sciences from UC Irvine, her M.A. from Pepperdine University and her Ph.D. in psychology in 2000 from the California School of Professional Psychology. She completed research postdoctoral training at UCSF Fresno and a National Institute of Mental Health Fellowship offered through Dartmouth University in disaster mental health research.
Ghafoori received recently a $534,000 grant from the State of California’s Victim Compensation Government Claim Board to fund a Trauma Recovery Center opening at Long Beach’s St. Mary Hospital that will offer comprehensive treatment for trauma suffered by victims of crime and their families.
To help prepare her for her Cretan journey, the Fulbright Foundation offered Ghafoori online support with helpful travel advice. “They have a website and a blog that offers assistance to Fulbright participants,” she said. “The website offers useful information such as links to previous Fulbright fellows who can explain the program’s expectations.”
A counselor’s ideal qualities ought to include empathy and the ability to be non-judgmental, Ghafoori believes. “You also need to be a good listener,” she said. “Once you are able to be effectively empathetic, you begin to develop with your clients a sense of understanding and trust that allows an exploration of the issues they find distressing.”
Her personal goal for her Fulbright grant is to participate in an international linkage between the University of Crete and CSULB. “I want to develop a relationship between their graduate program in health psychology and ours,” she said. “In the future, I would like to be able to take CSULB students to Greece.”