Binh Pham, PhD CandidateMarriage and Family Therapy
Learning from the Victims of Torture and Trauma
Binh Pham will be the first person in her family with a doctorate when she graduates from Antioch University New England (AUNE) next year with a PhD in marriage and family therapy.
A second-generation Vietnamese-American, Binh is already the first in her family to earn a master's degree. It was while she was studying for that degree at Syracuse University that she learned about AUNE. But it was only after meeting at a conference Walter Lowe, assistant professor in AUNE's Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) program, that Binh decided to apply to AUNE.
Minority Fellow: Taking Responsibility
Binh is also one of the twenty-two American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy Minority Fellows for 2010-11. The fellowship's objectives are to expand the delivery of culturally competent mental health and substance abuse services to underserved minority populations and to increase the number of doctoral-level, culturally competent marriage and family therapists from ethnic minorities.
Besides a stipend, the fellowship includes training in the cultural issues of marginalized populations. Minority Fellows attend two think tanks, in two different locations. This year's were in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. "It was a completely amazing experience to be with a group of people that are working for social justice," Binh said shortly after returning this summer from San Francisco. The small number of fellows allows them to work and socialize closely with the presenters, who teach and mentor them. "You get to see and meet the presenters you admired as a student," Binh said. "It became like a cohort."
Part of the training involved substance addiction in minority populations. "We have a responsibility to them," Binh said. "We're here because of our community. We are responsible for each other's well-being; therefore we need to address their problems."
With her doctorate in hand, Binh plans to work in clinical services in the refugee and immigrant community and to teach. This summer, she is interning at Bethany Christian Services' Healing Center for Torture and Trauma Victims in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "I'm working with everyone from Sudanese to Burmese, Rwandans, Congolese and Iraqis. I'm working with those who have experienced torture and trauma in their own countries and who also have the re-trauma of adjusting to a new life in the United States," she said.
Binh's own experience led to her interest in refugees and immigrants, though she does not conflate the two groups. "There is a popular saying that America is the land of the immigrants," she said. "You never hear that it is the land of refugees. There is a huge difference." She hopes to do research and clinical work with both groups and to define those differences.
"As a trauma therapist for refugees that have been tortured or traumatized, I have learned a great deal about resiliency," Binh said. "They have redefined for me what it means to be strong and survive the worst types of conditions. These experiences affect not only the individual, but the whole family unit.
"Specifically, with refugee and immigrant children, there needs to be more research on the transmission of trauma from the parents' generation to their children. Grandparents and parents transmit values, beliefs, culture of war, posttraumatic stress disorder and survival skills to their children. How do these children make meaning of it? How does trauma define their self-identity? This is the systemic view of how catastrophe such as war and persecution can have consequences both good and bad for generations to come."
The Road to AUNE
Binh's parents, Thuan Pham and Hoa Huynh, immigrated to the United States separately in 1978. They met in high school in Grand Rapids, where they now own a restaurant. Binh earned her undergraduate degree in family community services, a branch of social sciences, from Michigan State University.
She was in the first cohort of students to enter AUNE's new doctoral program in marriage and family therapy in 2008. "I'm happy to be part of the first cohort," Binh said. "It's just a phenomenal program. Marriage and family therapy students get the chance to teach and supervise while being mentored and supervised themselves, something that only a few programs offer.
"AUNE professors provide a very open, friendly and inviting atmosphere for students and are supportive of you and your goals. I couldn't be here without them helping me, pushing me and challenging me to be the person I am."