COMMUNITY PARTNER PROFILE: DR. BOLA AFOLAYAN

As a young child in Ayegunle Ekiti, Nigeria, Dr. Bola Afolayan would spend her time observing the people in her life, wondering about their feelings and what was going on in their minds. Who would have thought that her curious musings would lead her to a career as a psychologist?

Receiving both her M.S. and Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Dr. Afolayan assists others to overcome personal obstacles and hardships. “Dr. Afolayan empowers the people she works with by helping them identify their strengths,” said Jane Stapleton, the director of the Practice, Prevention Innovations Research Center at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) who first met Dr. Afolayan while she volunteered at UNH’s Women’s Commission.

As a psychologist, Dr. Afolayan spends her time treating clients who suffer from such issues as depression, grief, emotional disturbance, anxiety and trauma. Though Dr. Afolayan was no stranger to seeing occurrences of trauma during her time as an advocate, it wasn’t until a chance opportunity to partake in a clinical experience that she realized she wanted to study and specialize in this area.

“I saw many incidences of trauma when I was an advocate of domestic, sexual violence, and human trafficking victims.  Then a service and research trip to Haiti confirmed my interest and set me on the path of curiosity about these issues,” said Dr. Afolayan. While in Haiti, Dr. Afolayan spent two weeks working with victims of the catastrophic 2010 earthquake, particularly children still struggling with issues of trauma.  She encouraged them to express their feelings through art and collected data on trauma. “It changed my life,” said Dr. Afolayan of her time in the earthquake ravaged country. “I will take that with me for the rest of my life.”

Now five years after her life-altering trip, Dr. Afolayan draws from her varied experiences, both personal and professional, to treat her clients. “Every aspect of a human is very important. We need to put more emphasis on that,” said Dr. Afolayan whose treatment approach acknowledges factors such as native culture, gender, race, and sexual orientation.  “Every client has a world view. To be able to explore that is very helpful.” But no matter the approach, Dr. Afolayan takes great joy in seeing her patients develop and grow as people. “It’s very rewarding to help them,” she said. “I think that I’m blessed to be doing what I’m doing!”  

Dr. Afolayan is currently a staff psychologist with Psychological and Counseling Services at the University of New Hampshire (UNH Durham).  This recent position adds to her deep academic experience at institutions that include Ithaca College, Suffolk and Bentley Universities, as well as the University of Southern Maine, Portland. 

“I am thrilled to continue working with adolescents and emerging adults.  College years require a big transition to adulthood.  I enjoy working with diverse students who have great ideas that will one day help our society,” she said.

In addition to her work in the clinical psychology field, Dr. Afolayan is also an alumna of the Equity Leadership Program. Created by the Endowment for Health, the yearlong program places leaders of color on boards and civic bodies and teaches them the tools they need to self-advocate for their communities.

“I was pleasantly surprised when I was chosen to serve as a fellow on the Endowment’s board,” said Dr. Afolayan. “It was great to be in a room full of people that understand the issues.” While in the program, Dr. Afolayan learned about the problems affecting minority populations in New Hampshire, attended guest lectures, and sat in on Endowment for Health board meetings. “I have admired the Endowment for Health’s role in NH for years. They are serving as a catalyst, convener, and forerunner of issues concerning the state’s underserved,” said Dr. Afolayan. “They taught me how to leverage social capital and disseminate pertinent information regarding those we serve.”