Beyond Borders

Occupied minds: Helping to train psychologists in Nablus


I was based in Nablus for seven months. I treated patients, trained staff and supervised students from Al-Najah University – the first Palestinian university to teach clinical psychology. MSF offered threemonth student placements so they could practice their skills and apply their knowledge in a clinical setting. In total, they had eight students in the first-year cohort.

Psychology is not very well developed in Palestine. There is only one psychiatric hospital – in Bethlehem. The WHO, with the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health, are setting up community health centres that will also include treatment for mental health problems. That’s why MSF’s support in training students in clinical psychology is important.

In terms of needs, we were mainly dealing with the consequences of the occupation, like trauma, grief and loss. We also treated people suffering depression and anxiety.

We provide support for grief and loss to relatives and friends of people killed by Israelis. Such deaths are not normal and it’s hard dealing with the aftermath.

We also treated children who had been traumatised by the Israeli army entering their houses, searching at night or using weapons including gas bombs, or by the Israeli settlers entering their villages and being destructive.

In terms of the number of patients, quite surprisingly, I think we had more or less the same proportion of the population in need of mental health services as in Australia. There are several reasons for this – people are very resilient, they rely very much on their community, and because they have dealt with occupation for a very long time, they just cope with it.

The main problem is that Palestinians don’t have access to enough services, particularly in the rural, remote or conservative areas. The most challenging thing was scheduling the training – being responsible for organising the week and the days with the students, the translators and the supervising staff.

The most rewarding thing was supervising the students. The relationship with the patients was also rewarding thanks to translation by our interpreters.

We had a team of three national psychologists and two international psychologists, each with their own interpreter, two social workers, and a medical doctor. The initial information would be taken by a social worker, then the referral would be provided to the psychologists. We received referrals from other organisations and we also had a toll-free number. The allocated psychologist would either go to the person’s home, invite them to attend the clinic, or see them in a consultation room outside of Nablus, to do the initial assessment. The psychologists managed the case and we decided if a social worker or a doctor was needed, creating a multi-disciplinary treatment approach.

This experience will help my practice in Australia and it has inspired me to work more with refugees.


MSF has been in UAE since 1992 under the patronage of Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the UAE Minister of Culture, Youth, and Community Development. MSF in UAE consists of Executive, Finance, HR & Administration, Communications & Fundraising, Logistics and Desks (program manager, HR, Finance, logistics and medical referent). n Visit:




Date of upload: 14th Mar2017

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