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Local psychologist's workbooks help Haitian children cope with quake

Posted by Your Town  October 25, 2010 10:30 AM

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A local psychologist has developed two guided activity workbooks to help Haitian children cope with the trauma and stress following the devastating Haiti earthquake in January. Dr. Jodie Kliman now hopes to see her workbooks used in Boston schools that have significant Haitian student populations.

Mass. School of Professional Psychology

Kliman, a professor at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology in West Roxbury, created the workbooks to help children tell their earthquake stories through drawings, writing, or dictation.

"When children can tell their stories about a traumatic event in their own words or pictures at their own speed, healing can begin," Kliman said. "Directing their attention to positive features of life is important."

Kliman designed one workbook for children living in Haiti, "My Own Story About the Earthquake in Haiti," and she created another workbook for children living in North America, "My Own North American Story about the Earthquake in Haiti."

The first workbook is actively being used in Haitian schools, nonprofit organizations, and non-governmental organizations. Kliman said she is now trying to introduce the other workbook into the Boston school system for Haitian-American children.

"We really hope to bring the workbook to Boston schools and social services soon," Kliman said. "One principal is the Boston schools is very interested, but nothing is definitive. There is a large Haitian population here. We believe there is an interest building for the book."

Her father, Gilbert Kliman, and Caroline Hudicourt were co-authors.

Kliman and Dorothie Ferdinand, a fourth-year doctoral student at MSPP and co-author of the workbook, recently used the workbook with a group of Haitian born parents and children at the Joseph Smith Community Health Center in Allston. Kliman and Ferdinand, who was born in Haiti, were able to open up the earthquake discussion with the children, ages 7 to 13.

"The children drew powerful pictures and told us of nightmares that their parents didn’t know of," Kliman said. "It’s very important to talk to their parents about how frightened they have been. The children took home the workbooks for further discussion, and we gave suggestions to help parents deal with their children’s post-traumatic stress.

"The parents said the program was very helpful," Kliman continued. "We definitely hope to do more of these sessions, with parents and children together."

Ferdinand said it was a great pleasure to work with Kliman on the workbook project, and she believes the project would not have been accomplished without Kliman.

"Dr. Kliman was very dedicated to this process," Ferdinand said. "She made sure to see this project through. She helps keep cultural awareness as something we should strive for everyday."

In addition, Kliman worked with the Acacia School in Haiti to create these workbooks. Caroline Hudicourt, principal of the Acacia School and co-author of the workbook, has been using the book with fifth-grade students, and she said the workbook has significantly benefited them.

"The sharing of stories was particularly helpful to the kids," Hudicourt said. "At the beginning it was painful and some kids burst into tears as memories came back. Some complained that it brought back memories that they would rather forget. However, their overall behavior improved, particularly the behaviors of the kids who seemed the most affected."

Kliman also partnered with the Children's Psychological Health Center in San Francisco to develop these workbooks. Her father, Dr. Gilbert Kliman, is the founder of CPHC, and he is the original creator of this resilience-building workbook, using it in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and in the Gaza Strip in Israel. He said that his daughter has done an excellent job leading the Haiti project.

"She’s one of the few psychologists around who can apply therapy to a whole network of people,'' he said. "She reduces the risks of collapse for vulnerable people."

Dr. Jodie Kliman said she has a deep commitment to helping underserved communities and oppressed populations. When Kliman saw the devastation in Haiti, she was determined to help out.

"My heart was breaking for the children who had lost everybody and everything," she said. "I wanted to give them strength and resilience to get through the tough times. There is evidence that these workbooks will bring down their post-traumatic stress."

To see both versions of the workbook and learn more about Dr. Jodie Kliman and the workbook, go here and here.

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.

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