Ke Xu

Ke Xu

“The teachers were really active; they wanted to practice [the role-playing],” says Dr. Xu. “In China, people are more self-critical. It’s a cultural difference. They wanted to know what they could do better [to help their students].”

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Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine
Participant, Yale-China Medical Resident and Student Exchange Pro

During the summer of 2008, Dr. Ke Xu of the Yale Psychiatry Residency Program went to Changsha as our first exchange resident and worked at the Mental Health Institute of the Second Xiangya Hospital. While in China, Dr. Xu also went to Sichuan province to train people working with the victims of last year’s devastating earthquake. One key group Dr. Xu focused on was elementary school teachers in quake-affected areas. The quake struck at 2:00pm, a time when school children in the area were in class. Therefore, her goal was to help teachers understand the psychological needs of their students, many of whom had to escape from debris or walk for miles out of their villages to safety.

The training sessions used a lot of role-playing and discussion of how to help students cope. “The teachers were really active; they wanted to practice [the role-playing],” says Dr. Xu. “In China, people are more self-critical. It’s a cultural difference. They wanted to know what they could do better [to help their students].”

Since her return to the U.S., one experience from those sessions has stayed with Dr. Xu. On the first day of training in one town, a teacher brought her young, seven-year old daughter along. The teacher explained to Dr. Xu that since the earthquake, her daughter had refused to return to school. Previously an independent, precocious youngster, the teacher shared that her daughter would no longer sleep alone or even use the bathroom by herself. The girl also kept insisting to her mother that they should carry a backpack of food and water everywhere, lest they be trapped under a building by another earthquake.

Under the circumstances, Dr. Xu and her co-trainer, Heather Goff of the Child Study Center at Yale University, told the teacher it would be fine for her daughter to attend the training. The young girl disappeared to the back of the room, and everyone gradually forgot about her presence as they became absorbed in roleplaying and discussion.

The next morning, the mother of the girl came hurrying up to Dr. Xu and Dr. Goff. The mother said that, as soon as it was time to go home the previous evening, the girl exclaimed, “Mom, I’m normal.” Without realizing it, the young pupil had taken in the previous day’s workshop with captive ears. The mother reported that her daughter had gone to the bathroom by herself that night for the first time since the quake. Gradually, over the next several days, the girl began to return to her old self and ultimately agreed to go back to school.

“This story really touched us and encouraged us,” says Dr. Xu. “Before I went to Sichuan, I had a lot of doubt about what we could do. But I’m so glad that we went. People needed to talk about psycho-education and coping skills.”


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