Leading up to International Women’s Day on 8 March, we’re sharing the stories of many womxn researchers working in ASSET. Today s a clinical psychologist, works as psychotherapist and is the co-developer of the Friendship Bench intervention, Dr Ruth Verhey shares her journey by answering a few questions.

Dr Ruth Verhey (middle) with two of the Friendship Bench grandmothers.

How did you become interested in research?
I always enjoyed learning and understanding concepts and was specifically interested in thoughts and behavior of people.

Describe your research career thus far?

I have taken many detours; started out with med school, then was lucky enough to be able to receive treatment for my own mental health issues, did an apprenticeship as a baker (still doing lots of home baking until today), did my bachelors and then master’s degree in clinical and educational psychology in Europe (Germany), moved to South America (Colombia) where I worked with a women’s group and in educational psychology, moved to Africa (Zimbabwe) where I started a private practice and worked with a women’s group again, joined the Friendship Bench program and contributed to the creation of the program. Parallel to this, I had training in trauma therapy and wanted to understand what impact trauma (especially living with HIV, but of course also any other systemic traumatic factor) has on people in Zimbabwe and how the community health workers who offer the Friendship Bench program cope with being exposed to their clients’ stories. Embarking on a PhD had been a dream but between raising 3 children and all my work commitments, it did not feel feasible. Mentorship and support was definitively one of the very very important ingredients, there was more than one moment where I wanted to give up. I can see now that I have learned a lot. My latest learning process is in the field of implementation research.

Integrating a professional career and a family is complicated, and we need to all make more of an effort to allow everyone but especially those who also look after children (of all ages) to reach their potential.

Why do you think research in your field is important?
Research in mental health is so important because mental health is still so undervalued and people dealing with mental health issues are stigmatized and therefore not seeking nor getting the help they deserve. I want us to talk about health and we actually mean all aspects of health!
Do you have a womxn research & global health hero? Tell us about them.
I am thinking of those who contribute to research but are not mentioned. Here is to delivering agents of programs, study participants, research assistants, project coordinators, assistants and many more.
What is one thing you want to see changed between now and this time next year?

I would like to see more knowledge, awareness and less stigma in the general public, in media, in health care workers about anything that has to do with mental health or the lack thereof. And I would like to see all people feeling empowered enough to speak out about how they really are and evidence-based treatment options being made available everywhere.