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Professor studies Arab Spring protests

| Friday, February 21, 2014

Notre Dame psychology professor Laura Miller described her new line of research on the effects of extreme trauma on children and adults involved in the Arab Spring as “a marriage between [her] interests.”

The Arab Spring, a wave of demonstrations and protests across the Middle East, began in 2010 and has since left its mark on the people of that area, Miller said.

“The nature of what the Arab Spring has looked like and the enduring effects of initial protests have been quite different in each country,” Miller said. “In the case of Egypt, the Arab Spring began with an amazing surge of hopefulness and the removal of long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak from office, but has tragically devolved over time into military rule and pervasive instability.”

Miller said her interest in the Middle East began in her undergraduate years at Notre Dame, when she studied abroad in Cairo. She wrote her senior thesis on political involvement and perceptions of mental health care among university students in Egypt. She said she then focused her graduate studies in clinical psychology on the effect of violence on children. From there, her research on the events in the Middle East took flight.

Miller, who teaches the class Psychology of Peace at Notre Dame, said her research is still in its early stages.

“My collaborators and I have identified some university partnerships that will be critical for facilitating our research,” Miller said. “We are starting by engaging in some academic forums that will identify the key issues, needs and research priorities.

“I think that it is likely we will start with some preliminary online surveys to identify some of the cultural adaptations. We will need to make commonly used treatment methodologies and to identify ways that we can make treatment more accessible.”

The effect of the Arab Spring on the mental health of those in the Middle East will be forthcoming, but Miller said the results will almost certainly indicate a need for trauma services in the region.

“From the discussions I have had with colleagues so far, there is a very high need for trauma services, paired with a shortage of people available to provide these services, and much difficulty with intergroup relations,” she said.

Of specifically high need for trauma resources are university students in the Middle East, she said.

“Universities in the area have also reported the need for resources to help their students manage grief, as there have been a large number of student deaths that have greatly affected university communities,” Miller said.

Once the need for trauma resources is validated empirically by research, Miller said the ultimate goal of the study is to help psychologically-affected Middle Easterners on the road to recovery.

“After we do some survey research to identify basic needs, we are hoping to test a few intervention methodologies,” Miller said. “But what that will look like will depend on feedback we receive from the communities.”

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