S. Megan Berthold has many years of experience conducting forensic evaluations, providing psychotherapy, and conducting research with diverse torture survivors. She has served as an expert witness in many of their asylum hearings and Co-Chairs the US National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs' Research and Data Project. Her research with Cambodian genocide survivors in the United States addresses health intervention and behavior change in a population with enormous health disparities and extremely high rates of comorbid posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, diabetes, hypertension, and history of stroke. It has implications for prevention of comorbid complex health problems in newer arriving refugee groups. She collaborates with an interdisciplinary team of researchers and community leaders and organizations to promote increased health and the management of chronic conditions. Team members come from the School of Social Work (Berthold), School of Pharmacy (Buckley), the UConn Health Center (Wagner), Khmer Health Advocates (a Connecticut community based non-profit serving Cambodian Americans for over 30 years and the leading agency of the National Cambodian American Health Initiative), and the Cambodian Diabetes Association (in Siem Reap, Cambodia).
Areas of Expertise (5)
Trauma and Recovery
refugees and asylum seekers
vicarious trauma and resilience
human rights approach to social work
co-ocurring health and mental health conditions post torture and genocide
University of California - Los Angeles: Ph.D., Social Welfare 1988
University of Utah: M.S.W., Clinical Social Work & Health and Mental Health 1988
Harvard-Radcliffe College: B.A., Government 1984
- Editorial Advisory Board, Torture Journal (2016-present)
- Co-Chair Research & Data Project, National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs (2008-present)
- Subject Matter Expert (appointed), International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) Data and Research Methods Reference Group (2018-2021).
2017 Light of Liberty Award (professional)
Awarded by the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center (PIRC) to the University of Connecticut Immigration Detention Service Project that I co-organized for outstanding pro bono service to immigrants in detention.
Media Appearances (4)
UConn ‘angels’ bring legal, mental health aid to asylum-seekers.
An article about the June 2019 UConn detention center project that Dr. Berthold participated in. She was one of the organizers of this project that brought a team of social work and law faculty, law students, and alum to two detention centers in Pennsylvania to work with asylum seekers. Dr. Berthold conducted forensic evaluations in a detention center for families and in one for single adults.
When It Comes To Trauma, Who Helps The Helpers?
We talk with Dr. Megan Berthold, professor of social work at UConn, about the often-unrecognized "secondary" trauma that first responders, journalists, and aid workers, among others, sometimes experience in working closely with victims of trauma...
Fleeing violence, asylum-seekers rely on psychologists to back up their story
“The judge was very interested in certain details of the experience, like exactly how many men raped her, and what color was the wall,” recalled Megan Berthold, who was then a clinical social worker at the Program for Torture Victims in Los Angeles...
Language barriers compound disease, trauma for Southeast Asian refugees
The CT Mirror online
“Language is a huge barrier,” said Megan Berthold, a UConn School of Social Work professor who has worked extensively with refugees from Southeast Asia. A patient might nod and smile or answer yes or no in response to questions, leading the health care provider to think he understands, Berthold said. Some patients bring their children to translate for them, which can make it difficult for a parent talk about feelings of depression and hopelessness, she said. And without trained interpreters, she said, many patients don’t feel safe telling their doctor the full extent of what they’re experiencing, asking questions or weighing in on their treatment in ways that could improve it...
Remote Peer Learning Between US and Cambodian Lay Health Workers to Improve Outcomes for Cambodians with Type 2 Diabetes: a Pilot StudyInternational Journal of Behavioral Medicine
2020 This paper reports a single-group, pre-post pilot of a peer-learning intervention between community health workers (CHWs) in the USA and Village Health Support Guides (Guides) in Cambodia to improve outcomes for Cambodians with type 2 diabetes (T2D).
The complex care of a torture survivor in the United StatesJournal on Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and Prevention of Torture
2020 Torture is an assault on the physical and mental health of an individual, impacting the lives of survivors and their families.The survivor’s interpersonal relationships, social life, and vocational functioning may be affected, and spiritual and other existential questions may intrude. Cultural and historical context will shape the meaning of torture experiences and the aftermath.
Integrated health care and mHealth: A model of care for refugees with complex health conditions.Social Work in Public Health
Loomis, A. M., Berthold, S. M., Buckley, T., Wagner, J., & Kuoch, T.
2019 High rates of comorbid physical and mental health conditions are documented among refugee populations. A dearth of evidence exists on the use of mHealth technologies to support integrated health care models, with interprofessional mental and physical healthcare teams, within the field of refugee health, despite the potential for mHealth technologies to reduce barriers to health care access for vulnerable populations. This conceptual article illustrates how mHealth can facilitate integrated health care models with refugees with comorbid conditions. Implications are made to support the application of mHealth technologies within integrated health care models serving at-risk refugee populations.
Socially Isolated Cambodians in the USAdvances in Social Work
2018 Community organizations in the United States are severely challenged to serve Cambodian refugees who experience health disparities associated with their traumatic experiences. Community leaders have identified a sub-set of community members of particular concern: those at either end of the age spectrum (elders and young people) who are socially isolated. As part of a larger community-based participatory research project, we conducted a focus group with seven Cambodian community leaders from six cities.
Social Disconnection as a Risk Factor for Health among Cambodian Refugees and Their Offspring in the United StatesJournal of Immigrant and Minority Health
2018 Studies of relatively recently resettled refugees have noted social disconnection, linked to various physical and mental health outcomes, as a concern. Limited studies have examined whether social disconnection and its effects persists within refugee populations resettled more than 3 decades prior. The relationship between social disconnection and self-reported health was explored in a secondary analysis of a cross-sectional needs assessment survey with a snowball sample of 100 Cambodian refugees residing in Connecticut.
The HTQ-5: Revision of the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire for measuring torture, trauma and DSM-5 PTSD symptoms in refugee populations.European Journal of Public Health.
Berthold, S. M., Mollica, R. F., Silove, D., Tay, A. K., Lavelle, J., & Lindert, J.
2018 The Harvard Trauma Questionnaire (HTQ) was developed 25 years ago as a cross-cultural screening instrument to document trauma exposure, head trauma and trauma-related symptoms in refugees. This article aims to: (i) outline the process of revision of Part IV of the HTQ to (a) include the new DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for PTSD, and (b) separate out and more fully develop the refugee-specific functioning items; and (ii) promote a consistent approach to the validation of the HTQ-5 when adapted for use in other cultures and language groups.
Working With Refugees in the U.S.: Trauma-Informed and Structurally Competent Social Work ApproachesAdvances in Social Work
2017 Social workers, government, and non-governmental organizations in the United States have been inadequately prepared to address the impact of trauma faced by refugees fleeing persecution. Compounding their initial trauma experiences, refugees often undergo further traumatic migration experiences and challenges after resettlement that can have long-lasting effects on their health and mental health.