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Bryan McCormick

Last modified: Thursday, January 30, 2003

IUB faculty member volunteers at mental institutions in Kosovo

Imagine conditions prior to World War I at mental institutions in this country. That was the situation facing Bryan McCormick, an Indiana University Bloomington faculty member in therapeutic recreation, during a recent stay in Kosovo.

McCormick, an associate professor in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation's Department of Recreation and Park Administration, was a volunteer for two months in the war-torn Kosovo area of Europe while on sabbatical leave.

"I was an intern with the International Organization for Migration and was based in Pristina, the capital city in the Kosovo region of the Balkans," explained McCormick. "I worked with the staff at mental institutions on the therapeutic use of activities with their clients." One of his work locations was the Sthime Special Institute, whose substandard conditions have been documented by Mental Disability Rights International.

McCormick, who worked with children and adults with mental disabilities, said he wanted to see what health and human services are like outside of the United States. What he found was sobering. He said there remains a stigma attached to mental disability in the Balkan states that can affect entire families adversely if a child suffers from a mental disorder.

"They have no concept of mental health counseling in Kosovo, or any experience in the allied health professions such as occupational therapy or recreational therapy. Their lack of staff training and conditions for clients is reminiscent of the United States some 80 years ago," he said. "They are facing a very challenging transition from total institutional care to community-based rehabilitation. It's just a totally different mindset."

McCormick spent most of his first month there observing, so he wasn't regarded as an all-knowing expert from America. "I wanted to get to know the local people first and then provide assistance to them as they interacted with the clients," he said.

McCormick said that although the area is under United Nations control some three years after the civil war between ethnic Albanians and Serbs, signs of destruction are still noticeable. "The U.S. view is that nothing remains but bombed-out hulks, but there has been massive rebuilding," he said. "However, although the war destroyed buildings, it did more damage to the social structure. This takes much longer than buildings to rebuild."

Although conditions were depressing at times, McCormick said he wants to return and is exploring the possibility of taking graduate students in therapeutic recreation. "There is a substantial role for therapeutic recreation professionals in a post-conflict society, and it would certainly provide the students with a greater perspective than what is available in the Midwest," he said.

For more information, contact McCormick at 812-855-3482 or