President’s Message

Toronto-Jan 2013 newsletter

Our program for the 2013 conference in Toronto has been posted at the SSPC website ( for you to view. Many thanks to our Program Committee under the able leadership of Roberto Lewis-Fernandez, and the untiring support of our Executive Director, Liz Kramer. This year we had a bumper crop of unsolicited abstracts for presentations and symposia, along with several proposals solicited by the program committee. To all of our authors: we appreciate your submissions. Although we are now running concurrent sessions whenever possible, every good proposal could not be included in the program. We hope the authors of unaccepted abstracts will understand, plan to attend the meeting, and (if so inclined) discuss a re-submission with the Program Committee members.

The conference will have many exciting presentations. On Day One we have partnered with the Hong Fook Mental Health Association of Toronto, a community based organization, for major presentations on our conference theme – stigma — to bring leading speakers and the latest research on this important topic. Many members of Hong Fook will join us for a full day on aspects of stigma, along with the latest news on DSM-5 and its cultural components. Days Two and Three have plenary sessions on the history of cultural psychiatry (presented by our founding President, Ron Wintrob) and on stigma in the US military culture and the serious mental health challenges (e.g., suicide, brain injury and trauma) facing mental health providers. This year our Education and Training Committee will again feature special sessions for trainees only, including a return of case supervision with senior cultural psychiatrists and anthropologists. You won’t want to miss our annual business meeting when we will elect (for the first time) two new Board members. At that lunch session I will also introduce new SSPC members, explain enhancements to your SSPC membership that have been developed by our committees during the past year, and present plans for the 2014 meeting. Finally, I have an important explanation and suggestion regarding this year’s schedule. As usual, we are meeting for three full days. Typically we have met Thursday-Saturday. However, due to our inability to obtain meeting space for those days this year, the conference officially begins at 8:15 AM on Friday, May 3rd, and ends at 5:30 PM on Sunday, May 5th. I encourage you, if possible, to arrive on Thursday and leave either Sunday evening or Monday morning so you won’t miss any of these excellent presentations, and will still have enough time to meet with friends and colleagues.

Registration is now open. Don’t forget to tell the hotel you are attending the meeting and use the code listed on our website. I look forward to greeting everyone in May!

Members in the News: Psychiatrist Starts Program to Treat Political Refugees, Torture Victims

Members in the News: Psychiatrist Starts Program to Treat Political Refugees, Torture Victims

A psychiatrist uses his multicultural experience to help political refugees from other countries and train residents to work with these victims.

by Joan Arehart-Treichel

Thirteen years ago, “Griff,” as he is affectionately called by his colleagues, had an epiphany during dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant in Washington, D.C.

That city, he knew, wasn’t just the nation’s capital, but home to many thousands of immigrants. In Washington, D.C., and its suburbs, there were about 40,000 Afghans, 250,000 people from Central America, and more Ethiopians than anywhere outside of Ethiopia. Moreover, an estimated 40,000 of these were political refugees who had been tortured by the governments of their home countries, with many developing mental health problems as a result. So shouldn’t he, James Griffith, M.D., and his colleagues at George Washington University (GWU) be doing something to help them?

Griffith set out to make that idea a reality.

First he and his colleagues connected with the Center for Multicultural Human Services, now a program of Northern Virginia Family Services, in Falls Church, Va. The center was established to respond to the myriad problems facing immigrants and refugees, but had no psychiatric component. Griffith and his colleagues created a partnership with the center, where he and GWU psychiatry faculty members Lynne Gaby, M.D., and Anjuli Jindal, M.D., would supervise their psychiatry residents in weekly clinics.

Over the past 13 years, Griffith, Gaby, Jindal, and the residents have evaluated and treated immigrants, refugees, and torture survivors during 22,000 patient visits.

Patients who benefited from the program stay fresh in his memory, Griffith said during an interview in his office. Among them, he noted, were a former Sandinista soldier from Central America, a Khmer survivor of the Pol Pot killing fields of Cambodia, Bosnian survivors of ethnic cleansing, Iraqi political prisoners of Saddam Hussein, genocide survivors from Rwanda and Congo, as well as African physicians tortured for advocating human rights in their home countries.

“Among those politically tortured, we have treated patients from perhaps 60 countries,” Griffith said. “They were interrogated relentlessly; deprived of food, water, and sleep; waterboarded; sexually assaulted; subjected to beatings and electric shocks; or forced to commit sexually degrading acts with family members—all efforts to silence or destroy their capacity to speak out or challenge their governments.”

“Yet it often has been amazing, after psychiatric treatment was initiated, how rapidly these individuals’ posttraumatic symptoms improved,” Griffith pointed out. “Psychiatrists are mostly accustomed to treating patients whose psychiatric illnesses stem from genetic risk factors and early childhood trauma. Survivors of political torture often have been emotionally healthy political leaders and activists with no prior risk factors for mental illness. A number have been physicians or other health care professionals in their home countries. It is a powerful lesson for our psychiatry residents to witness how extensively human beings can recover from infliction of tremendous horror and pain.”

To complement the clinical training at Northern Virginia Family Services, Griffith and his colleagues developed an innovative residency curriculum to train psychiatrists for work with patients from other countries. “We teach clinical methods that are portable across different cultures and that can be used in resource-poor environments where efficiency and effectiveness are both priorities,” Griffith said.

Perhaps surprisingly, he has encountered little opposition to the cultural-psychiatry focus of his residency program and its global mental health track. “One reason why is probably because they are a good fit for our Washington environment, given our patient populations, faculty, and local resources,” he speculated. “It also helps that I am program director for the residency,” he added with a chuckle.

Griffith has found the multicultural clinical and training programs he has launched very rewarding. “In many ways, our refugee work is a return to the ancient notion of being a physician, because being a physician has always been about relieving suffering. Refugees may be depressed, or they may have PTSD, but mostly they suffer from demoralization, loneliness due to being away from home, stigma, or grief due to many losses. Psychiatrists have knowledge and skills for relieving human suffering that extend well beyond treating psychiatric disorders.”

“We have what may be the country’s only psychiatry global mental health curriculum that spans all four years of training,” Griffith reported. He noted that residents can spend part of each residency year in regions as diverse as the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. “A lot of medical anthropology, ethnopharmacology, human-rights advocacy, and transcultural psychiatry is embedded in our residency curriculum for all our residents.”

“Griff’s work with refugees and immigrants is unusual in psychiatry and very unusual for residency program directors,” Joan Anzia, M.D., director of the psychiatry residency program at Northwestern University, observed.

Indeed, there appears to be only one other multicultural psychiatry program like that of Griffith’s in the United States—the Intercultural Psychiatric Program at Oregon Health and Science University. James Boehnlein, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health and Science University and a participant in that program, confirmed that this is the case.

“I very much admire Dr. Griffith’s work with immigrants and refugees because he views treatment in a comprehensive manner,” Boehnlein said. “He focuses on restoring dignity, hope, and meaning in the context of the person’s family, culture, and community. He also correctly sees the role of the psychiatrist comprehensively as someone who can use medication, individual and family psychotherapy, along with the skills of allied health professionals, to reduce symptoms and suffering.”

And the best is yet to come, Griffith believes. “My biggest concern is to find a way to endow the program with philanthropic funding, because immigrants and refugees who are not yet citizens largely have no reimbursable services.”

See the whole article and additional information at

Copyright © 2012 by the American Psychiatric Association. Reprinted with permission from the October 5, 12012, issue of Psychiatric News.

Welcoming SSPC to Toronto!

by Lisa Andermann

The city of Toronto is one of North America’s largest, most diverse and exciting urban centres. It is a great family destination, so please consider bringing your children with you! The Delta Chelsea conference hotel is well-known for its indoor pool and water slides. They feature a family pool with a 130ft indoor ‘Corkscrew’ waterslide, Club 33 teen lounge and Kid Centre.

Within walking distance, or short taxi ride/public transportation, are a number of excellent museums and kid-friendly sites, just a few of which are mentioned below.

Entrance to the Royal Ontario Museum Photo credit: Michael Prokaziuk

Entrance to the Royal Ontario Museum
Photo credit: Michael Prokaziuk

Royal Ontario Museum 100 Queen’s Park ; Telephone: 416-586-8000
Explore an exceptional array of themed galleries throughout the Museum, spanning both world cultures and natural history. With six million objects in its collection, curators actively conduct research as art historians, archaeologists and material culture specialists. Collections range from Stone Age implements to 20th century art and design. Dinosaur galleries may be more popular with kids!

Art Gallery of Ontario 317 Dundas Street West; 416-979-6648
With a collection of more than 80,000 works of art, AGO is among the most distinguished art museums in North America. From the vast body of Group of Seven to Peter Paul Rubens’ masterpiece The Massacre of The Innocents, the AGO offers an incredible art experience. Transformation AGO is an innovative architectural expansion by architect Frank Gehry that resulted in one of the most critically acclaimed architectural achievements in North America. Highlights include Galleria Italia, a gleaming showcase of wood and glass the length of a city block, and the often -photographed spiral staircase.

Special exhibits: March 16–June 16, 2013: Revealing the Renaissance: Art in Early Florence

Harbourfront Centre Tel: 416-203-1233
Downtown on the shore of Lake Ontario. Boardwalk, nice views, interesting shops and Inuit art museum. Combine with upscale dim-sum and water views at the Pearl Harbourfront and you have a great family outing!

Eskimo Art Gallery 12 Queens Quay W.; 416-366-3000
Founded in 1981, the Eskimo Art Gallery has a long tradition of presenting the finest contemporary Inuit art from the Canadian North. In addition to museum-quality masterpieces, there are works by the most talented Inuit artists of the younger generation. Services also include art consulting and appraisals.

Hockey Hall of Fame (for some Canadian culture!) 30 Yonge St.; 416-360-7735
The world’s one and only! Spread across 60,000 square feet, the Hall of Fame offers something for everyone: the finest collection of hockey artifacts from around the world; state-of-the-art games that challenge shooting and goalkeeping skills; themed exhibits dedicated to the game’s greatest players, teams and achievements; an extensive array of multimedia stations; theatres; larger-than-life statues; a replica NHL dressing room; and NHL trophies including, best of all, hands-on access to the Stanley Cup.

CN Tower in Toronto

CN Tower in Toronto

CN Tower: Wonders of the (Modern) World 301 Front St. West
In 1995, the CN Tower was classified as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Besides serving as a telecommunications hub, the Tower provides world-class entertainment and a wide range of unique attractions, exhibits and food and beverage venues. 360 The Restaurant at the CN Tower features unforgettable food combined with a magnificent revolving view of Toronto more than 351 metres (1,151 ft) below. Elevation  is complimentary with the purchase of a main course.

Toronto Facts

Toronto is home to more than 100 cultures.

Toronto is Canada’s largest city, with a population of 5.5 million in the Greater Toronto Area.

Toronto is the 5th largest city in North America, after Mexico City, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

One-quarter of Canada’s population is located within 160 km (100 mi.) of Toronto.

As the capital of Ontario, Toronto is the seat of government for Canada’s most populous province and is the industrial and business centre for the country.

There are two official languages in Canada – English and French.

Toronto tourism websites:

New Members

SSPC welcomes the following new members who have joined since July 2012:

Clara Aisenstein
Constance Cummings
Michael Hejazi
Nancy Kelly
Makoto Osawa
Eric Oosenbrug
Melanie Ramiro
Nisha Shah
Veronica Slootsky
Matilda Stubbs
Audra Yadack

We look forward to sharing experiences, learning from you, and seeing you at many Annual Meetings for years to come!

Send us your news!

by Shannon Suo

In my role as newsletter editor, I hope to include more news about SSPC members. In this issue, you will see part of an article about James Griffith that appeared in Psychiatric News. We aren’t always aware when our members make news, so please let us know! Submissions for the SSPC newsletter can be already published or original pieces (permission will need to be obtained for already published stories).

In an effort to improve services to our members without increasing dues/registration, SSPC will be exploring advertising options for the newsletter and website. If your piece is deemed to be more appropriate for one of those avenues, you will be notified and given the option of either revising your submission or purchasing advertising space. If you have any referrals for potential advertisers, please contact Liz Kramer.

As mentioned previously I also welcome any input into the newsletter content, layout, or appearance. Please contact me at if you have any feedback or concerns!