The Cambodian Lotus Thrives Under a California Sun: How a Mental Health Clinic Partnered with a Khmer Buddhist Temple to Reach Killing Fields Refugees Living in California

  • Daryn ReicherterEmail author
  • Sophany Bay
  • Bophal Phen
  • Tith Chan
  • Yeon Soo Lee


Suffering and loss are universal elements of the human condition. But so are hope and healing. This narrative discusses the partnership between academic psychiatry, a community mental health program, and a local Khmer Buddhist temple in an effort to rebuild lives broken by the Cambodian war and genocide. The key elements of this partnership found their foundation in the personal stories of the individuals involved in the project as much as in the missions of the agencies that partnered together. In order to effectively work with Cambodian survivors of genocide, cultural sensitivity was so essential that this partnership used unorthodox methods by Western standards yet reached a population otherwise poorly receptive to mental health interventions. Mindfulness meditation, co-led by Khmer Buddhist monks and Khmer mental health professionals, bridged the gap between East and West to make this partnership blossom. Meanwhile the personal stories of the monks, the Khmer clinicians, and patients became a cornerstone of the program, creating a unique healing experience.


Posttraumatic stress disorder Cross-cultural psychiatry Cambodia Killing Fields Mindfulness meditation Community psychiatry Torture survivor Buddhism Interdisciplinary Cultural sensitivity 


  1. 1.
    Van Schaack B, Reicherter D, Chhang Y, Talbott A. Cambodia’s hidden scars: trauma psychology in the wake of the Khmer Rouge. Phnom Penh: Documentation Center of Cambodia Press; 2011.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Mollica RF, Wyshak G, Lavelle J. The psychosocial impact of war trauma and torture on southeast Asian refugees. Am J Psychiatry. 1987;144:1567–72.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Saechao F, Sharrock S, Reicherter D, Livingston JD, Aylward A, Whisnant J, et al. Stressors and barriers to utilizing mental health services among diverse groups of first-generation immigrants to the United States. Community Ment Health J. 2012;48:98–106.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Reicherter D, Venerable Rong Be. Mindfulness meditation after trauma. In: Khmer Krom Journey to Self Determination. Khmer Krom Federation, December 2009.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 4th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatry Publishing; 1994.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Silove D, Manicavasagar V, Mollica R, Thai M, Khiek D, Lavelle J, et al. Screening for depression and PTSD in a Cambodian population unaffected by war: comparing the Hopkins Symptom Checklist and Harvard Trauma Questionnaire with the structured clinical interview. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2007;195:152–7.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Hinton DE, Hinton AL, Eng KT, Choung S. PTSD and key somatic complaints and cultural syndromes among rural Cambodians: the results of a needs assessment survey. Med Anthropol Q. 2012;26:383–407.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Han M, Valencia M, Lee Y, De Leon J. Development and implementation of the culturally competent program with Cambodians: the pilot psycho-social-cultural treatment group program. J Ethn Cultur Divers Soc Work. 2012;21:212–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daryn Reicherter
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sophany Bay
    • 2
  • Bophal Phen
    • 2
  • Tith Chan
    • 3
  • Yeon Soo Lee
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesStanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Gardner Family Care CorporationCambodian ProgramSan JoseUSA
  3. 3.Gardner Family Care CorporationCambodian ProgramSan JoseUSA
  4. 4.Gardner Family Care CorporationAPYP/Cambodian ProgramSan JoseUSA

Personalised recommendations