Four years later, I look forward to learning more about their innovative solutions and how they work

Today, it is four years ago almost to the day that I return to Havana, Cuba, for an educational exchange on integrative mental health. I am on this journey to explore how the Cubans have utilized integrative and innovative approaches when dealing with mental health concerns of their people. Cuba continues to struggle with economic challenges but less so after then-President Barack Obama restored full diplomatic ties in December 2014. With the death of Fidel Castro in November 2016, it will be interesting to see what has changed in Cuba.

Fifteen of us embark on this journey. All of us are professionals in different areas: psychiatrists, social workers, a nurse practitioner, an educator. Each of us has a unique perspective to share but most of all, a curiosity of what is unfolding in the new Cuba.

Four years ago, I felt humbled to see how creative Cubans were with their mental health interventions. What they did share were case histories of successes. On this trip, I would like to hear if they have done more research to see how efficacious those interventions are.

What we will see

Communication remains a challenge, as Cuban Spanish is different than the little Spanish I have been learned in New Mexico and Mexico. Some words are easier to understand but Cubans speak at a fast pace! We will have an interpreter with us while we travel to the different hospitals and clinics.

The majority of our time will be in Havana, but there will be one excursion out of Havana to La Terrazas, a biosphere reserve. I look forward to learning more about what they are doing there.

And, of course, going for Cuban jazz and seeing local artists will be a part of our journey.

It is not clear how the internet has changed since I was last there, so sharing much information while I travel may be difficult. I promise to share upon my return!

Seeking far and wide

I hope to create more trips to lands that have innovative ways to reduce mental health issues in their countries. I am curious about the challenges of spiritual traditions that are local and specific to certain cultures and how the interface of Western medicine interacts with these traditions.

Being mindful of these local traditions can be most useful in opening doors to healing that may be most unusual and amazing. And not just for the locals, but for those witnessing and participating with an open mind and spirit.

This year I am teaching first-year medical students at the University of New Mexico, and part of the curriculum is to read The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. The author follows Hmong people from Laos who settled in California as refugees.

The persistent challenge is the lack of understanding that the medical community had of the Hmong culture, especially around the Hmong way of healing, which had a strong spiritual component.

We have much to learn in the medical field about the intricate connections between culture and healing.

And that is true of any culture we explore. It is good to be observers first, then offer what might be beneficial to them. The Hmong appreciated the value of good antibiotics but needed to hear the story through live theater to understand the benefits. Sharing a story is always more powerful in getting the message across. Much can be shared in a way that crosses many perceived barriers.

In my trip to Cuba, I hope to listen and share many healing stories, and I look forward to sharing them with you through my many travels.

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