Addressing Psychological Trauma of Poverty from a Kenyan Perspective: A Researcher’s Reflection

16. September 2021 ScholarshipDevelopment ResearchResearcher
photo of former scholarship holder on a balcony with city view
In this article former APPEAR scholar Elijah Macharia Ndung’u talks about his experiences and research during his doctoral studies at Alpen Adria University, Klagenfurt.

I came to Austria in 2012 to conduct my studies on the role of social workers in addressing the trauma of poverty from a Kenyan perspective. My research was part of the APPEAR project Professional Social Work in East Africa - Towards Sustainable Impact | PROSOWO which aimed to promote professional social work in East Africa. Extreme poverty is a tormenting, dehumanizing and distressing daily phenomenon for the poor and vulnerable. It can cause extreme distress to the non-resilient poor and lead to trauma. The study sought to understand the complexities and divergent trauma related problems associated with poverty, especially in the Kenyan context which may be different from the Western context and other places in the world. This was informed by the fact that the conceptualization and manifestation of trauma may be different in various cultural settings. My study aimed at creating new insights into the field of trauma management, identifying a different perspective to the trauma concept. My research also identified existing indigenous knowledge and approaches/practices that can be adopted by social workers in addressing the trauma of poverty. Most importantly the study envisaged that, if social workers played an active role and effectively identified and addressed the trauma of poverty, then they would be enhancing their clients’ capability to attain socio-economic and psychological well-being thus fostering social development and ultimately contribute towards poverty reduction.

The diverse experiences I had during my doctoral studies at Alpen Adria University, Klagenfurt equipped me with the ability to undertake challenging roles in counseling psychology especially as the coordinator for research in the department of counseling psychology in my home institution, Catholic University of Eastern Africa and also enriched my knowledge and competency in social work, and research. I became more culturally aware and appreciative of other diverse cultures. I also got a positive outlook at resolving country specific issues with home grown solutions. The scholarship allowed me to create academic networks which help me in addressing current issues in the country and developing indigenous solutions to local problems through an integrative needs-based approach.

In addition, I sincerely appreciate my supervisor Prof. Klaus Ottomeyer for his supervision, moral support, expertise; technical advice and professional guidance that made it possible for me to endure throughout the writing of this dissertation. He was a pillar of hope and a role model to emulate. I am grateful to Prof. Helmut Spitzer for his encouragement, assistance, professional advice and moral support which gave me hope and determination to complete my dissertation. Also for his expertise and knowledge that helped in shaping my research ideas. Also, I thank Prof. Gidraph G. Wairire from University of Nairobi-Kenya, for his support and professional advice that helped especially in the data collection phase. Thank you for your dedication and encouragement to see me through the completion of my dissertation.

Elijah Macharia Ndungu’u is a lecturer in Counseling Psychology and Research Methods at The Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Nairobi-Kenya in the Department of Counseling Psychology. He is also an adjunct lecturer in counseling psychology at St Paul’s University-Nairobi, in the Faculty of Social Sciences. He holds a BA in Social Work from University of Nairobi, and a MA in Counseling Psychology from United States International University-Africa. In 2015 he received his PhD in Psychology from Alpen Adria University, Klagenfurt. Elijah was nominated for his PhD studies within the APPEAR academic partnership PROSOWO.