“Bonjour, l’élan retrouvé”

Salut mes amis, hello friends,

While I embarked from Paris for a summer spent working with the youth of the suburbs of Dakar, Senegal (Pikine and Thiaroye) to learn about the social factors that influence addiction, I ended up finding myself back in Paris, where I had been studying abroad since January. In Dakar, I was working with an NGO that helped prevent “idleness” among the youth by providing sports and other activities as a form of drug prevention.

Now, I spend my days at a day hospital (l’hôpital de jour d’addictologie et psychiatrie) in the 13th arrondissement of Paris that works with patients who suffer from drug addiction and  psychological disorders such as depression, psychosis and schizophrenia. It is one location of the larger organization l’élan retrouvé.

I am a behavioral neuroscience major and french minor. In the neuroscience department, I have been researching the effects of binge alcohol exposure on the reward system, and if it creates a predisposition to use other drugs, specifically amphetamines. So, I did not have a whole lot of psychological or psychiatric background going into this internship.

Here at the day hospital, I shadow and work side by side with psychiatrists, psychologists, an “addictologist,” nurses, and social workers. My role is between being a very attentive wall flower, making the endless café, participating in  workshops, and having to give a lot of observations and opinions about what I see. Before this internship, I had little exposure to working with drug addiction or psychological disorders outside an academic or lab setting. Therefore, interacting with patients seemed daunting and unclear at first, especially as someone who really knows more about the science of drugs (physiologically)  than the psychology of people. It has proven to be quite a rewarding experience though.

Every day, there are multiple “groups” that the patients can participate in that include : photo, art therapy, dance, talking groups, biking, free time, video games, singing, philosophy, ‘nature & discover’ and a few more. Helping with the groups is how I spend most of my day, and the rest I sit in on interviews with patients, or twiddle my thumbs (while snacking on the endless pastries my co-workers bring in every morning) at the reception desk when all the patients decide the weather is not good enough to leave the house.

By now, I know most of the regular patients by name and can tell from their behavior what kind of day they are having. It’s an internship that really has shown me the power of human interaction, art therapy, and letting go of worries. I’m the first ‘international’ intern they’ve had so the patients get excited learning I’m from California, and ask me about LA, San Francisco, or practice their English with me. It’s nice to know that a small distraction and my American accent can bring small pleasure to people who have suffered a lot in their lives.

Some of the highlights so far have been: row boating in a small lake by Chateau Vincennes, learning to tango, learning shiatsu, biking through Paris to the bois de Vincennes, and patients remembering who I am.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of the center or patients doing activities because of confidentiality reasons, but here is bois de vincennes, where I have been twice with the patients: once to row boats and again to bike, it’s quite a beautiful corner of the city!

Bois de Vincennes


À bientôt,



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