Dr. Katherine Owens encounters a retired psychologist in her travels to Ukraine earlier this year. Photo courtesy Dr. Katherine Owens

Campion alum touched by sojourn to Ukraine

  • October 20, 2022

Dr. Katherine Owens’ long career as a psychologist has afforded her opportunities to go abroad and provide post-disaster psychological support, serving among those affected by devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Somalia.

The latest journey has taken Owens — a graduate of Regina’s Campion College — to Ukraine, when not long after the Russian military invasion was launched on Feb. 24, Owens felt an urge to trek overseas and provide on-the-ground assistance to the best of her ability.

The adult clinical and adult neuropsychology expert, who established an assessment-focused private practice in Regina called The Owens Group, was part of the third deployment of the Canadian Medical Assistance Teams (CMAT) that travelled to Ukraine in April.

Owens shared her experiences on the ground in Ukraine in the Fall 2022 edition of Brag Magazine, a journal spotlighting the professional accomplishments of Campion College alumnus.

A bachelor of arts honours recipient from the Jesuit-run Campion College in 1998, complementing her masters and doctorate degrees in clinical psychology from the University of Regina, Owens wrote an anecdote about a special encounter that will stand out as an enduring memory of her Ukrainian sojourn.

“One (moment) that was particularly memorable was talking with an absolutely lovely older lady. It turned out that she had been a psychologist herself before she retired — we had many things to discuss. At the end of our time together she carefully took off her lovely old fur coat and handmade sweater to show me that she had a red shirt like mine and insisted upon hugs and photos together.”

Owens’ team was made up of herself, another clinical psychologist, a physician, three nurses and a logistics specialist. Each day, the team crossed into the invaded nation state from its home base in Chlem, Poland, and provided support to Ukrainians traveling to the border to seek refuge. She would either be assigned to provide psychological support to any person who ventured to the shipping container clinic the CMAT team established right on the Polish-Ukrainian border, or she would be part of a grouping that would travel into nearby small cities to host clinics in schools and other buildings housing displaced citizens. Every day demanded between three to five hours of travel.

“There was sort of two sides of the coin,” recalled Owens. “On one hand, there were people trying to cope with what would be an everyday stressor for folks around the world such as having more kids than money and other problems like that.

“And on the other end of the extreme, you had people coming out of the worst of the war zone, or had been in a bomb shelter for a month and some. There were stories where people who had just about run out of food in those bomb shelters were feeding their kids flour mixed with the last bit of water from the batteries.”

Owens empathetically listened to the stories, discussed with her patients about the normalcy of experiencing severe anxiety in such situations and she provided advice on how to manage anxiety and trauma.

The people she counseled picked her brain about the mental challenges that can appear in this situation such as depression, schizophrenia, PTSD and brain injury.

The former Campion student, recognized with an Alumni of Distinction award in 2016, wrote, “I am very sure I gained as much as I gave on this trip.”

Owens told The Catholic Register that in spite of the tragic situation enveloping the country, many people she encountered offered smiles, laughs, handshakes, hugs, well wishes, and sometimes a chocolate bar or a homemade craft as a token of appreciation that Canada is behind Ukrainians at this time.

“There is no doubt at all that they really, really appreciated that, even though we all felt we weren’t really doing enough.”

One thing that struck her was that the landscape of Ukraine was so familiar to her native province.

“Ukraine looks very much like Saskatchewan,” said Owens. “If you plopped me down on a rural road in Saskatchewan or Ukraine, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you which was which. I thought that was really interesting, unique and important. It reminded me that things like this really could happen anywhere. Trouble can befall anyone. Wouldn’t we all want someone from the rest of the world to help?”

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.