UVM awarded for human rights efforts

An initiative launched at UVM received an award for its work with torture victims.

On Feb. 15, the 2017 Human Rights Award was presented by the American Psychiatric Association to the National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs which includes UVM’s organization, the New England Survivors of Torture and Trauma.  

“We’ve always served the underserved,” said Karen Fondacaro, director of UVM’s Vermont Psychological Services Clinic.

The goal of these programs is to expand the resources devoted to the care of torture survivors and prevent torture worldwide, according to the NESTT website.

The Human Rights Award acknowledges the efforts made by groups focused on supporting the human rights of populations with mental health needs, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s website.

“It’s an award that recognizes an organization that is working on behalf of individuals that are having their human rights abused,” Fondacaro said.

UVM’s work with torture survivors began in 2007 with the establishment of Connecting Cultures.

The program’s goal is to make mental health treatment available and accessible to refugees who have experienced torture, according to UVM’s press release.

Patrick Giantonio, executive director of Vermont Refugee Assistance, said Connecting Cultures is incredibly useful for torture victims in recounting the trauma of their experiences.

It is not possible to evade the worst moments of torture when going deeper into someone’s life. It is very useful to have them receiving treatment while going through these difficult times, Giantonio states on the UVM website.

Fondacaro and her team provide one-on-one counseling with the use of an interpreter to give the patients control over their stories, according to UVM’s website.

“We provide treatment and we work with many refugees in Vermont who are torture survivors,” Fondacaro said.

Connecting Cultures promotes outreach efforts to refugees who experienced trauma in their home countries, she said.

In 2009, Fondacaro continued her efforts in torture treatment and assistance to refugees through the program NESTT, according to UVM’s website.

NESTT is a direct partnership between Connecting Cultures and Vermont Law School, linking psychological and legal services to provide holistic and effective assistance, stated UVM’s website.

The NESTT program has provided services to torture survivors from 29 different countries, according to UVM’s press release.

“We had an opportunity to work with refugees,” Fondacaro said, “we went out into the different communities and really got to know them, and I think that’s why it worked.”

UVM clinical psychology students are very involved in the NESTT and Connecting Cultures programs.

Giantonio recognized the courage it takes to share these difficult stories.

The group of people is incredible, he stated on the website.

Jamie Herold, a 2016 UVM graduate, said the research being done at UVM is extremely important especially in regards to trauma patients.

“Clinical psychologists can help survivors of trauma process their traumatic experiences and integrate it into their stories, as well as learn skills to cope with their trauma symptoms,” Herold said.

Fondacaro said NESTT and Connecting Cultures serve to raise awareness of human rights abuses while providing support to the victims.   

“We’re very proud to be part of a group that has received such a prestigious and important award,” Fondacaro said.