Immigrant and Refugee Mental Health Training at Northern Virginia Mental Health Services

The Multicultural Human Services Program of Northern Virginia Family Services (NVFS) in Falls Church, Virginia, provides extensive community mental health services for immigrants and refugees in Northern Virginia and the Washington metropolitan area. NVFS provides social services such as housing assistance, English as second language, job skills training, legal assistance and psychological assessments for refugees seeking political asylum, and mental health counseling.

GW psychiatry faculty, residents, and medical students provide psychiatric services for NVFS clients. Faculty and residents treat refugees with posttraumatic symptoms from political violence, war, or torture in their countries of origin, as well as immigrants with mental disorders other than traumatic stress disorders. Most clinical work is conducted with translators. Up to four PGY-III residents each year can elect to train in a weekly NVFS clinic with immigrant and refugee patients. PGY-IV residents can elect an advanced training experience treating torture-survivors or consulting to community-based programs for children and adolescents in immigrant families.

At NVFS the Program for Survivors of Severe Trauma and Torture (PSTT) has been one of our nation’s major treatment programs for survivors of political torture since 1998. PSTT’s mission is to assist survivors of torture as defined by the Torture Victims Relief Act of 1998 and to address the human consequences of these human rights abuses. The program serves more than 150 survivors of torture per year. PSTT is funded by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, the United Nations, and other humanitarian organizations. All services are free for PSTT clients and include:

  • Trauma-focused psychotherapies
  • Psychiatric evaluation and treatment
  • Medical treatment
  • Case management and other social services
  • Legal services

In addition, hundreds of community professionals nationwide have been trained by PSTT staff to recognize and effectively address the needs of torture survivors.

The GW Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences has provided psychiatric evaluations and treatment for PSTT clients since 1998. Drs. James Griffith and Vanessa Torres-Llenza provide both direct patient care and faculty supervision for GW psychiatry residents who receive training in torture-survivor treatment.

Since 2011 the GW Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and PSTT have jointly sponsored periodic Greater Washington Trauma and Torture Survivor Network conferences and each annual conference for the National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs (NCTTP), the national network of 34 torture survivor recovery programs. Our program for training psychiatry residents in immigrant and refugee mental health services received the 2007 Award for the Advancement of Minority Mental Health from the American Psychiatric Association Foundation.