Psychology Professor Mike Wessells, Ph.D.
Randolph-Macon College psychology professor Mike Wessells, Ph.D., recently received
a $10,000 grant from Psychology Beyond Borders to conduct research in Sri Lanka
on how psychosocial assistance in the aftermath of armed conflict and natural disasters
can inadvertently cause harm.
According to Wessells, “Some of the greatest suffering in these situations is psychological—due
to losses of home, loved ones, separation from family members and exposure to attack.
It is now widely recognized that psychosocial support is a fundamental part of the
humanitarian response to people in emergency settings.” Wessells’ research aims
to learn from national and international practitioners in Sri Lanka how psychosocial
assistance causes harm and what can be done to minimize and prevent further harm.
“Professor Wessells is one of Randolph-Macon’s finest and his research efforts are
an inspiration to us all,” said R-MC president Robert Lindgren. “His scholarly work
reflects his dedication and commitment to the College and to the betterment of humanity
on a global scale.”
Wessells co-chaired the InterAgency Standing Committee Guidelines on Mental Health
and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings. These were the first global, consensus
guidelines for the field, and their development was motivated in part by the desire
to adhere to the humanitarian imperative Do No Harm. This was a two-year effort
at the highest policy level of the humanitarian world—27 different United Nations
agencies and NGOs (Non-governmental Organizations) collaborated in developing these
guidelines for the field of mental health and psychosocial support.
“My goal, through this research, is to enable psychosocial humanitarian support
to be most beneficial to people in their hour of need,” says Wessells. “I am thrilled
about this small grant because it addresses a topic that has been taboo for too
long. Hopefully, this research will help to bring the subject to light and enable
us to learn how to prevent harm.”
Wessells is the author of Child Soldiers: From Violence to Protection (Harvard
University Press, 2006). He serves as senior advisor on child protection for Christian
Children’s Fund and regularly advises United Nations agencies and governments concerning
child protection and children in armed conflict.
Wessells has been at Randolph-Macon College since 1981. “When I began teaching at
R-MC, I taught traditional psychology courses,” says Wessells. “After receiving
the multidisciplinary Kellogg National Fellowship, which R-MC nominated me for,
I went multidisciplinary and tried to address real world issues of conflict and
peace, serving also as coordinator of interdisciplinary studies.” Although presently
on leave, Wessells taught a January 2008 psychology course.
Throughout his career, Wessells has been honored with numerous awards for his dedication
and contributions in his field. The American Psychological Association awarded him
the International Humanitarian Award, the Presidential Citation for Distinguished
Contributions to the Discipline and the Profession, and the Ralph K. White Lifetime
Achievement Award from the Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence.
Wessells was also awarded the Thomas Branch Award for Excellence in Teaching and
the Samuel Nelson Gray Distinguished Professor Award. In 1996 he received the Virginia
Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education and from 1983
– 1986, he was awarded the Kellogg National Fellowship. Wessells received his B.A.
in psychology from Roanoke College and his Master’s and Ph.D. in psychology from
the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.