DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY NEWSLETTER
After falling in love and marrying an American Peace Corps volunteer she met while
teaching in her native Botswana in 1999, Didi Biorn came to the U.S. looking for
new personal and professional opportunities. The USD Department of Psychology
provided the young newlywed the perfect place to explore her emerging interest in
the field of mental health care. This December, Biorn will officially earn her doctorate
in clinical psychology from USD. She returned to Botswana in 2007, where she now
lives with her husband, Matt, and two children Khaya, 9, and Tashata, 5. She took
some time from her busy schedule to answer some questions for this newsletter.
Her responses were edited for length.
Why did you come from Botswana to the University
of South Dakota? Did you intend to study psychology
when you enrolled?
I came to the U.S. in 2000. Sioux City, Iowa, was supposed
to be our pit stop as we scouted the southwest for similar weather
to Botswana to settle. My husband was convinced the Midwest
weather would kill me. I arrived in the U.S. as a guidance and
counseling teacher. I had graduated from a three-year teacher
training college. I knew I would need to transfer my credits and
add some more hours to get a bachelor’s degree. So I set out to do
I visited the local colleges and a friend of the family made an
appointment for me to visit with Dr. Barb Yutrzenka at USD after
hearing I was interested in psychology. Barb doesn’t remember
this visit but I do because it changed our itinerary from a final
destination in the southwest to USD for the next seven years!
For a young, newly-wed immigrant, meeting with the director
of the clinical psychology program was the psychological first
aid I needed for the mixed emotions I was faced with following
the move. She answered all my questions and gave me more. My
mother in law was waiting for me in the parking lot this whole
time. I remember feeling so supported and appreciated and I knew
then I wanted to stay in Iowa and South Dakota.
My husband was not very happy with this decision. He was
keen on moving elsewhere having lived in Sioux City since he was
fourteen. He was ready to find a warmer city to move to following
his five-year stint in hot Botswana. In the end, we ended up
staying longer in the Midwest thanks to a supportive husband and
a driven, albeit naïve, immigrant wife.
What is the status of mental healthcare in Botswana?
Mental healthcare in Botswana is still in its infancy. It is both
frustrating and exciting—frustrating in that there are so many
gaps in mental health services and not many options for people
in need of our services. The flip side of this coin is that there are
so many opportunities for the few psychologists that are here to
make lasting contributions to the development, implementation
and formulation of policies and programs alike. I am therefore
involved in lobbying for the review of Botswana’s Mental Health
Act of 1971.
In 2013 I was appointed to be a member of the Mental Health
Board by the Minister of Health. The duties of the MHB involve
visiting all the prison facilities and hospitals in the country to
Q&A with Didi Biorn, Ph.D. ’14,
a Clinical Psychologist in Botswana
Didi Biorn returned to her native Botswana after
earning a doctorate in clinical psychology at USD.