A Passion for Improving Mental Health Systems for SE Asians Brings a Psychologist a 3rd Fulbright Award

A middle-aged caucasian man sits in classroom with 40 Asian young adults, sitting at school desks
Bruce Svare sits with psychology students at Ho Chi Minh City University in Vietnam.

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 8, 2021) — Inadequacies in the treatment of mental illness in far-off lands are situations easy to overlook for an American scholar. It was that way for Bruce Svare, a neuroscientist and professor of Psychology at UAlbany. That all changed when he watched on television with the rest of the world the physical and emotional devastation of the 2004 tsunami that struck Phuket, Thailand, and other parts of Southeast Asia.

Thailand‘s compassionate but largely untrained mental health care professionals were often helpless in assisting survivors who were psychologically damaged by the disaster. Thanks to the benevolence of the United States and many other countries, trained psychologists descended on the country to provide needed assistance and comfort.

“I soon learned that the profession of clinical psychology and the important role it plays in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness was almost nonexistent in Thailand and other Asian countries,” Svare recalled.

In 2006, he was given a chance to help. Named a Fulbright Senior Scholar to Thailand, he engaged in a year-long mission to promote the development of his field in the Thai higher education system, teaching behavioral neuroscience and aiding in curriculum development at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. He also traveled to lecture at other universities and medical schools.

An Abiding Personal Connection

In this and subsequent visits, Svare acquired a love of the Thai people, spearheading fund-raising efforts in the United States to enable more Fulbright scholars to teach and conduct research there. He himself won a second Fulbright Senior Scholar award in 2014 to teach at three other Thai universities. He extended his mission to Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries in the region.

Now, Svare is the winner of yet a third Fulbright Senior Scholar award, given through the organization’s Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) research program. In the next year, he’ll travel to Laos, Indonesia and Malaysia to continue his work, spreading the discipline of contemporary psychology, assisting faculty with curriculum development and scholarly publishing, researching psychology infrastructure in higher education, and assessing mental health care systems and ASEAN’s critical need to train more professional psychologists.

His work will culminate in a presentation of his findings at ASEAN headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia. Retiring from the University in the fall, he will devote even more time to his ASEAN efforts — as well as spend time with his five grandchildren.

“It is an honor and privilege to be selected by our government to be a Fulbrighter to ASEAN,” said Svare. “It is my sincere hope that my work will improve the status of psychology in this region of the world and ultimately help the 655 million citizens of ASEAN who are in need of more professionalized mental healthcare.”

“Dr. Svare is a very dedicated scholar who is passionate about improving the teaching of psychology,” said the department’s chair, Professor Mark Muraven. “He has been the recipient of multiple Fulbright scholar awards over his career, which speaks to an abiding commitment to international education.”

Svare also was recently named as the first editor-in-chief of Fulbright’s new scholarly journal, titled Fulbright Chronicles. Beginning in the spring of 2022, the open access, peer reviewed quarterly will publish the research and teaching work of former Fulbrighters.