Nicholas Scull: Seeing People in Environmental Context Key in International Clinical Work
In 2015, Bryn Mawr College’s Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research celebrated its 100th anniversary. To mark the occasion, a series of feature stories were written to showcase alumni who embody the school’s mission of “Professionals for Purposeful Action.”
“In Kuwait, one of the most important things is to get married and have a good job,” said Nicholas Scull, MSS ’02. “There’s such a stigma surrounding mental health services, so if word got out that you were seeking services, it could have a devastating impact on your personal and professional life.”
Scull moved to Kuwait to serve as the clinical director for the Fawzia Sultan Rehab Institute, the only nonprofit health clinic in Kuwait and one of the only providers of community mental health services in a region of 3 million people.
“We do a lot of work in the community trying to educate people about mental health services and mental health topics including anxiety and depression,” Scull said. “People have been incredibly courageous in seeking services, which is why we’ve grown to a staff of six clinicians serving more than 400 people a month.”
In a country and region with no psychological licensing laws and overall inconsistent and poor mental health care, Scull spearheaded the development of the Middle East Psychological Association, the first psychological association in Kuwait, and the development of a professional ethics code. In partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Scull developed Kuwait’s first psychiatry residency training program for medical students at Kuwait University.
In addition to his clinical work, Scull serves as the assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for American University of Kuwait, where he has re-structured general education requirements and increased support for students experiencing academic difficulties. In addition to teaching psychology courses and working to get the university’s first psychology major approved, Scull also leads first-year experience courses for college freshmen, helping them to adjust to and thrive in a college environment.
“I have this perfect blend of being able to maintain a clinical practice and train and supervise employees, but also have an academic component that allows me to teach and further my research,” Scull said.
Scull’s research interests have a social justice focus and include the community-based role of psychology and using social work to promote peace. His dissertation examined forgiveness, desire for revenge, adherence to Islam and psychological well-being among Kuwaiti survivors of the 1990 Iraqi invasion. Now his interests have evolved to incorporate perpetrators of violence.
On a recent trip to Rwanda in June 2014, Scull interviewed imprisoned Hutu perpetrators about their motivation for killing their Tutsi neighbors during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. He’s also interested in exploring how LGBTQ individuals manage their Muslim identities, especially in Kuwait, where someone can be sent to prison for upwards of 15 years for being gay.
“Bryn Mawr opened my eyes to how social work can be applied in international settings,” Scull said. “As a clinician, it’s easy to focus on the individual, but Bryn Mawr was incredibly transformative in terms of helping me to see people in the context of their environment and to focus on the macro-level to affect the greatest change.”
Photo credit: Bryn Mawr University