March 2015 Features


A Social Worker in Kuwait

In a country where mental health care is stigmatized, Nicholas Scull, MSS ’02, is helping to build the profession.

By Jenny Pedraza

“In Kuwait, one of the most important things is to get married and have a good job,” says Nicholas Scull, M.S.S. ’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.”

Nicholas Scull, M.S.S. ’02 (left), and research assistant Christophe Mbonyingabo at a genocide memorial in Rwanda.

Nicholas Scull, M.S.S. ’02 (left), and research assistant Christophe Mbonyingabo at a genocide memorial in Rwanda.

Scull moved to Kuwait to serve as the clinical director for the Fawzia Sultan Rehabilitation Institute, the only nonprofit health clinic in Kuwait and one of the only providers of community mental health services in a region of three 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 explains. “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 such 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 restructured 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 that help 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,” says Scull.

Interculturally sensitive practice has been a core aspect of both Scull’s clinical work and his research on cross-cultural relations in Guatemala and in the Middle East. His research interests have a social justice focus and include the community-based role of psychology and the use of 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 June 2014 trip to Rwanda, Scull interviewed imprisoned Hutu perpetrators about their motivation for killing their Tutsi neighbors during the 1994 genocide.

He is 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.

The recipient of the GSSWSR’s 2011 Emerging Leader Award, Scull credits Bryn Mawr with opening his eyes to how social work can be applied in international settings. “As a clinician, it’s easy to focus on the individual,” he explains, “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 effect the greatest change.”


GSSWSR Marks 100th Anniversary

February 25: Distant Voices Touring Theater* docudrama about a WWII Japanese-American internee, 7 p.m., Thomas Great Hall.

March 24: Debunking Hospice Myths, 6 p.m., GSSWSR Conference Room.

March 25: Viewing Urban Violence through the Lens of Trauma*, with Theodore Corbin, MD, MPP and John A. Rich, MD, MPH, Drexel University Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice, 6 p.m., Thomas Great Hall.

April 2: 2015 Kevin J. Robinson Forum on Social Justice: Resilience in the Face of Childhood Trauma: People and Places*. Keynote: William Bell, MSW, PhD, CEO, Casey Family Programs. Panelists: Rufus Sylvester Lynch, MSW, DSW; Monica McGoldrick, LCSW, PhD; Henri Parens, MD, FACPsa. Moderator: GSSWSR Dean Darlyne Bailey, 4:30 p.m., Thomas Great Hall.

May 29: GSSWSR Awards & Dessert Reception, Reunion Weekend, 8 p.m.

Plus: Dean Darlyne Bailey’s Whistle Stop Tour of the East Coast. For more, contact Nancy Kirby, 610-520-2608,

* Held in conjunction with the Dissent, Violence, Justice series.