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A Powerful Impact: Mental Health Evaluations for Immigration Cases

02 Feb 2021 3:14 PM | Nancy Orr (Administrator)

When I became a therapist, I never imagined that simply by providing assessments for immigration cases, I could be instrumental in refugees getting asylum and families remaining together. I had never heard of therapists doing such a thing. I stumbled into this work by accident and it has led to some of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

One of the first cases I worked on was with a transgender man seeking asylum. He described the horror of being a transgender person in El Salvador and shared that in just a few years, more than 20 people in his community had been killed for being transgender, gay or lesbian. It no longer surprised him to see dead bodies in the street. He himself had been assaulted and tortured by a police officer, and this trauma was the basis of his petition for asylum. By conducting a mental health evaluation, I was able to document his PTSD symptoms, assess his credibility, and provide evidence to support his claim that he needed asylum. I’ll never forget his lawyer telling me that the case was successful and that my evaluation was crucial to winning the case. The joy that I felt being part of this life-saving process was so profound that I was immediately hooked.

Previously, my interest was solely in providing therapy. I graduated from the Smith College School for Social Work in 2008 and worked for several years as a therapist in community mental health and then at Walter Reed Military Base. I started building a private practice and thoroughly enjoyed my specialty, which was providing therapy for adolescents. But my career took a different turn when I moved into an office across the hall from several immigration lawyers.

One day, a lawyer asked me to provide a “psychological evaluation” for one of his cases. I’d never heard of such a thing and immediately refused, thinking (erroneously) that a therapist would need a doctorate for this kind of work. In fact, this field is wide open to master’s level clinicians and there’s no need to be bilingual or have any specialized experience. With the right training, it’s easy to effectively apply our clinical skills to the unique needs of immigration cases.

I found training that provided some basic information about immigration evaluations, and I jumped in. Because my office was across the hall from these lawyers, I was able to work closely with them and create highly effective templates tailored to each type of case. In time, we began hearing that our cases were winning at an incredibly high success rate. Lawyers started telling me that my assessments were helping them win cases they would have lost in the past. I came to realize that when a therapist understands how each case is structured, an evaluation can be extraordinarily effective. It can be the dealbreaker, determining whether a family will stay together, or an individual will escape life-threatening circumstances in their home country.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve provided evaluations for hundreds of immigrants from a wide range of social and economic backgrounds. My recent clients have been from Iran, India, Thailand, and China. I have pro bono clients who arrived in the U.S. with just the clothes on their backs, and I have wealthier full-fee clients who are engineers and computer scientists. I’ve found that incorporating these assessments has brought substantial growth and stability to my private practice.

As I began to realize the huge need for evaluations and the benefits to a private practice, I was shocked that so few therapists even knew about these opportunities, much less how to get the training to get started. So, I made it part of my mission to spread the word as widely as possible and support therapists who wanted to do this work. In 2017, I founded The Immigration Evaluation Training Center, and I have had the opportunity to train hundreds of therapists around the country. Therapists already have the skills necessary to conduct mental health assessments, and I show them how to use those skills most effectively for each type of immigration case. In my trainings, I provide the key to my success, so therapists can get started with ease and confidence. I supply a simple roadmap to guide therapists each step along the way. This includes knowledge about relevant legal concepts, detailed templates, and interviewing questions, as well as expert marketing strategies and ongoing support through consultation and online social media groups. Over and over, I see how my proven formula helps therapists provide highly effective evaluations and launch thriving practices.

I feel such gratitude that I discovered this obscure niche in the mental health field. This is some of the most meaningful work I’ve ever done, and it’s deeply in line with my own values. As someone with the unearned privilege of being a white, educated U.S. citizen, I’m grateful for the chance to use my privilege and skills to contribute to social justice, and I’m passionate about spreading the word because I know that so many therapists from all walks of life would love this same opportunity. We have the chance to be on the front lines of advocacy for immigrants and to make an impact that’s life-changing. The field is wide open for you to get started.

Georgia King, LCSW is one of the leading therapists providing clinical evaluations for immigration cases. Over the past decade, she has provided assessments for hundreds of immigrants from around the world with an exceptionally high success rate. She regularly appears in court as an expert witness and has been a guest speaker at Georgetown Law School and the Smith College School for Social Work. Ms. King is also at the forefront of training therapists, and since founding The Immigration Evaluation Training Center in 2017, she has had the opportunity to teach hundreds of therapists around the country how to provide expert evaluations and how to launch thriving businesses. She can be reached through her website www.TherapistImmigrationTraining.com.

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