GPA Welcomes Two New Members in Havana, Cuba
Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Posted by: Howard Drutman, PhD
By Howard Drutman, PhD
The bus stopped mid-block in front of an unremarkable building. For downtown Havana, that alone is remarkable, as almost everywhere you look the buildings (in their state of decay) are either beautiful or repellant, depending on your point of view. Our Cuban guide went into the building while my colleagues and I waited on-board. After seemingly an eternity, our guide returned and told us it was time to head inside. The professors of the University of Havana’s Psychology Department were waiting. This moment was nine months in the making. I was nervous.
My colleagues and I stepped off the bus and up the stairs to the building’s entrance (pictured right). I remember turning around for a photo, then taking a deep breath before heading inside where five or six professors were waiting to greet us. I was finally going to meet my colleague and email friend, Miguel.
Nacie, our Cuban guide pointed out Dr. Miguel Roca. We shook hands, and then hugged. It was a moment I will never forget. We were two psychologists who had connected across borders and looked forward to sharing ideas. He introduced me to the other professors and then led our group to a basement classroom for our joint presentation.
We found the classroom crowded with grad students, professors, and psychologists. Dr. Roca and Dr. Ares Muzio sat facing the classroom, as did I, along with my fellow Atlanta professionals. Our spouses and partners sat in the front row snapping pictures. David Alexander, LPC was my co-mental health professional. The Hon. Lauren Alexander - a former magistrate judge, was our judicial representative, and Bobby Burnett, Jody Miller, and Cindi Alter were our family law attorneys. Naice served as our translator.
I introduced our group and spoke about child custody evaluations. Bobby Burnett talked about the role of a Guardian ad litem. Lauren Alexander explained how judges make rulings and the legal procedures involved in child custody cases in most jurisdictions in the United States. David Alexander discussed co-parent counseling and how children deal with divorce. Jody Miller and Cindi Alter presented on litigated, mediated, and collaborative divorces. Then we turned the presentation over to our Cuban counterparts.
The professors discussed how Cuban psychologists impact family law cases. Increasingly, psychologists provide testimony in divorce cases to assist judges’ determination of the children’s best interest. Most of their input into the trial is provided via written reports, although courtroom testimony from psychologists is increasing. Since Cuban citizens own very little property, custody becomes the primary source of contention. The use of forensic psychology in family law cases is growing in Cuba. Dr. Ares Muzio spoke about her work as the psychologist whom the Cuban Government consulted regarding the return and reintegration of Elian Gonzales from the United States.
After the Cuban professors had presented their information, it was time for a Q&A. The Cuban students and teachers were fascinated by our collegial relationship and were impressed that attorneys and mental health professionals work respectfully together. They expressed their hope that our collaborative approach to divorce would spread to Cuba.
Among the attendees of our presentation were two doctoral students and one master’s student who were conducting their graduate research on parental alienation in divorced families. Through their questions, it became apparent that they did not have access to any of the latest research. Later, I found out that the University hadn't had access to the APA journal database for many years. Based on their questions, they were at least 10 years behind.
Our scheduled one-hour presentation lasted for three. The many questions we received made for great discussions. Were there no time constraints, we could have answered questions for hours more. We were asked to return in the future to continue our divorce dialogue. I was invited back to present a seminar on psychological testing, as well as parental alienation. Dr. Roca thanked us and presented me with a certificate commemorating this event as well as copies of his two books (a textbook on clinical psychology and his recent book on divorce). Through the assistance of Andrea Kozak Miller, PhD, Past President of GPA, I had brought honorary member certificates from the Georgia Psychological Association (GPA) for the two professors. The professors welcomed these certificates and membership in GPA, along with some Atlanta Braves tee shirts and hats.
Following the presentation, Miguel invited my fiancé and me to his home, an honor we were thrilled to accept. We skipped an evening’s group activity to taxi to Miguel’s house, 30 minutes from the city center. Miguel, his wife, his mother, his 27-year-old son and his son’s girlfriend, warmly welcomed us. We sat in their garden and were treated to cured meats as well as homegrown mangoes, olives and bananas. When the local rum came out, we toasted our new friendship and to future collaboration between our countries and us. We discussed politics and our perceptions of each others’ homelands. We forged a lasting friendship.
Once back in the United States, I felt compelled to assist my colleagues and their graduate students in Cuba. I was able to have 1,000 of the most recent and relevant journal articles related to psychology and divorce delivered to Miguel. I am committed to forwarding new articles, so their graduate students and professors have access to current research for their studies. I have also contacted some of the world authorities on various divorce related psychological topics to forward their books and articles to the University of Havana. Providing research studies and educating the Cuban professors and students has become one of the most personally satisfying professional experiences I have had in my 27 years as a psychologist.
Since our trip, Cuba and the United States are in the process of warming up their relationship. It is now much easier to travel to Cuba, and will be even simpler in the months to come. I encourage all of my professional colleagues to visit Cuba and forge your own collegial relationships that cross borders and enhance understanding. I recently received an invitation from Dr. Roca and the President of the Cuban Society of Psychologists to present at the International Convention of Psychology – Hominis 2016, May 9-13, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. If any of you would like to join me, let me know.