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Volunteer Abroad in Mental Health, Psychology and Special Needs

Danielle Forshay
By Danielle Forshay
Guest Writer
Volunteer Forever - Volunteer Abroad in Mental Health, Psychology and Special Needs

Mental health is an important issue everywhere, and in many countries around the globe, there is still much work to be done to combat pervasive social stigma, discrimination and low quality of life. Many mentally disabled people simply do not have access to adequate care, or local superstition prevents them from receiving it. As a volunteer on a mental health or psychology placement, you will work to overcome these barriers and help communities embrace a mindset that approaches mental health matters with care and understanding.

One program in particular that you will want to check out is IVHQ, which offers tons of volunteer opportunities around the world, including those in mental health and special needs. Travel to Vietnam to work with teams providing therapies to people in need, or visit and support a care center in Peru that helps people with mental and physical disabilities. Or visit and spend time with residents at an elderly care center in Guatemala, where you can provide companionship and support.

Another excellent organization is Plan My Gap Year. They offer two mental health and psychology projects in Ghana and Sri Lanka and will even work with your university to ensure your trip serves as an elective for course credit.

Read on to learn more about some of the best international mental health volunteer opportunities available.

Volunteer Abroad in Mental Health, Psychology and Special Needs

International Volunteer HQ

Volunteer Forever - Volunteer Abroad in Mental Health, Psychology and Special Needs

International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) provides affordable volunteer programs in 40+ countries worldwide. An innovative organization, IVHQ works with local organizations and NGOs to offer more than 200 programs that deliver sustainable value for communities and for the environment. Since its start in 2007, IVHQ has hosted 80,000 participants, sending 10,000 individuals abroad annually. This is an affordable option for travelers on a budget, with program fees starting at only $180. Program durations range from one week to six months, and support is available 24/7 for participants throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Pacific.

Volunteer in Vietnam

IVHQ’s Special Needs project in Vietnam needs caring people to work in schools, hospitals, community clinics, or orphanages, helping mentally disabled children affected by Agent Orange. Your assistance will go a long way to support the day-to-day operations of these centers, where you will be working alongside local placement staff. No experience is necessary to sign up, and duties may include rehabilitation exercises, therapeutic treatments, playing with children, entertaining and educating them through games, music, and art, painting murals, renovation work, and helping to develop fundraising initiatives. Accommodation is in a volunteer dormitory at a Tourism College nearby. Program fees start at $245 for one week. Read more about this program here.

Volunteer in Greece

If you hold qualifications for Special Education and/or Physical Therapies, or you’re wrapping up your studies in the field, consider an IVHQ program on the island of Chios in Greece. As a Special Needs Care volunteer, you’ll work under the supervision of teachers at a primary school that provides care and education for children with special needs – the only one of its kind in Chios. The children there, ages 4 to 11, have differing disabilities, from mild physical and mental disorders to those with cerebral palsy. Tasks include helping with physiotherapy routines, assisting teachers with lessons, supervising children at mealtimes, and helping out with general cleaning and maintenance at the school. You’ll stay in an apartment in Katarraktis, sharing a room with up to six other IVHQ volunteers – private rooms are available with an upgrade. IVHQ’s Greece program starts at $340 for the first week. Click here to learn more!

Volunteer in Guatemala

An oft-overlooked segment of the population, the elderly in Guatemala need your compassionate and friendly assistance. This IVHQ special-needs program places volunteers at underfunded nursing homes and senior centers in La Antigua to provide one-on-one attention, healthcare, and to socialize with the elderly. Most of the residents in the centers are from low-income families and rely on local service organizations for their basic needs. As a volunteer, you’ll help to organize recreational activities, medicine distribution, and meal preparation. You may have a special interest in creating exercise programs, song and dance activities, and arts and crafts projects. Accommodations are homestay with local families, and weekends can be spent traveling to nearby Tikal, Belize, Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras. Program fees start at $310 for one week. Learn more and apply here!

Special Needs Care in Peru

The Special Needs Care program in Cusco is one of the many volunteer projects you can sign up for with IVHQ in Peru. The children at the care center have a range of mental and physical disabilities, and volunteers are needed to help with personal care, specialized attention, basic feeding, clothing and more, depending on the severity of their needs. You’ll also help by organizing crafts and games for playtime. You’ll be housed with a host family for an immersive experience. Sundays are a religious day and most shops and restaurants are closed, though you may decide to attend a local church with your host family for an immersive cultural experience. Program fees are $295 for one week. Read about this program here!

Plan My Gap Year

Volunteer Forever - Volunteer Abroad in Mental Health, Psychology and Special Needs

Volunteer in Ghana

The Ghana Mental Health & Psychology Experience placement from Plan My Gap Year is intended for current students of mental health or psychology, placing volunteers within a clinical setting at Tafo Government Hospital. Gain valuable insights into the structure and function of mental health services in Ghana today and become deeply involved in community outreach programs that seek to overcome stigma against mental health, encouraging patients to seek treatment at the first signs of mental illness. You’ll have the opportunity to give talks about mental health in schools and other community centers, engage in direct outreach to community members who suffer from psychiatric issues and make home visits to keep apprised of patient progress. Mental health volunteer placements require a minimum of two weeks starting at $599 (£459).

Volunteer in Sri Lanka

Similarly, the Sri Lanka Mental Health & Psychology Experience was designed with students of psychology and mental health in mind. This placement is based in the Galle District of Sri Lanka, which was one of those worst affected by the 2004 tsunami, an event that left a lasting impact. Volunteers will gain insights into how mental health needs are addressed within a foreign culture. You’ll spend time shadowing mental health professionals as they consult with patients; opportunities for hands-on involvement will vary depending on experience, willingness, and program duration. You’ll also become involved in community projects caring for mentally disabled children, creating engaging activities and supporting creative therapy. You must commit to a minimum of two weeks. Program costs begin at $586 (£449).

Projects Abroad

Volunteer Forever - Volunteer Abroad in Mental Health, Psychology and Special Needs

Mental illness affects people in countries throughout the world. On top of the struggles that come with these illnesses, harmful stigmas persist in many communities. You can be a part of changing this on a psychology internship with Projects Abroad. You’ll gain valuable experience in this field while supporting the work professionals. During your internship, you’ll learn skills that boost your resume and set you apart for grad school applications.

Psychology Internship in Jamaica

Adapting to different cultures is an important part of working with people. That’s why an overseas internship is ideal if you’re pursuing a career in mental health. On Projects Abroad’s psychology internship in Jamaica, you’ll work closely with local psychologists and they guide you through your work. Shadow the professionals as you sit in on consultations with patients, and perform the following tasks:

  1. Learn from professionals about diagnosis and treatment
  2. Observe or assist with play therapy sessions
  3. Give presentations on mental health to raise awareness
  4. Conduct interviews and collect data to identify common mental health issues

You must commit to two weeks on-site, and the cost begins at $3,065. Learn more here.

Psychology Internship in Mongolia

Projects Abroad’s psychology internship in Mongolia gives you the opportunity to gain experience working at a mental health clinic with professional psychologists. Through their guidance, you’ll learn first-hand what a career in mental health is like. This internship is geared towards interns with experience. You need to have completed at least three years of psychology-related training to join. This way, you’ll be able to handle more sensitive cases and won’t feel out of your depth. As an intern, you’ll:

  1. Conduct research and write reports on mental health in the Mongolian context
  2. Shadow psychologists during consultations
  3. Learn from professionals and share your knowledge with them
  4. Help with outreaches in remote communities

Fees begin at $3,155. If you’re able to commit to four weeks, click here and read more.

Agape Volunteers

Volunteer Forever - Volunteer Abroad in Mental Health, Psychology and Special Needs

When you join Agape Volunteers in Africa, you’ll have the opportunity to take part in meaningful work for communities in need. With programs in Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Ghana, Agape Volunteers specializes in volunteering, tourism, and development work, with a focus on medical volunteering, teaching, coaching, and environmental conservation. Program fees cover orientation, support, accommodation, airport transfers, meals, and even travel insurance, making Agape Volunteers an incredibly affordable option if you want to volunteer in Africa.

Volunteer in Kenya

If you’re interested in mental health care, consider a trip that allows you to volunteer with a medical program in Kenya. This opportunity has a far-reaching impact on patients, and you provide much-needed support for the overworked healthcare teams onsite. Your tasks will vary depending upon your experience level, but you’ll shadow professionals during your first few days in-country. Accommodations are in a volunteer house with dorm-style rooms. Fees start at £590 for one week. Click here to learn more.

Volunteer in Ghana

Boost your experience as a nurse or doctor specializing in mental health on a medical volunteer trip in Ghana. To volunteer with mental health patients, you’ll start the day by shadowing medical professionals as they begin their rounds, and assist with more serious procedures, if asked. Volunteers live at the local center for street-children, which also acts as Agape’s base camp in Ghana. Sign up for extra adventures, including jungle trekking, cultural excursions, and visits to a variety of National Parks and animal sanctuaries. Program costs start at £510 for one week. Read more and apply here.

Volunteer in Tanzania

Volunteer for special needs or mental health care on a medical placement in Tanzania with Agape Volunteers. Support the staff at underserved hospitals and clinics, and help with medical outreach projects in the community. Accommodations are at a guesthouse in Arusha, a short walk from the city center. Spend your free time on excursions, including overnight safaris on the Serengeti or a weekend visiting the beautiful Moshi Waterfalls and Chemka Hot Springs. Stay from one week to one year in Tanzania, with costs starting at £695. Click here to start your application!

Maximo Nivel


Maximo Nivel offers safe, affordable, and high-quality volunteer trips, Spanish language learning programs, and teaching opportunities in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. Its mission is to encourage individuals to gain a better understanding of the world through education, adventure, and cultural travel. Founded in 2003, Maximo Nivel has placed 25,000 people on programs that improve and positively impact communities where they work. Its education programs are internationally accredited, and it trains and certifies ESL teachers for worldwide employment.

Healthcare and Medical Volunteering

Do you have experience in health care? Put your skills to good use in a clinic or hospital, providing care for patients in need. If you’re a pre-med student or in nursing school, or studying health sciences, you can sign up for a healthcare and medical volunteering program with Maximo Nivel and work with medical professionals in Costa Rica, Peru, or Guatemala.

Take part in medical campaigns and vaccination programs and learn how the healthcare systems work in other countries. Care for people who are physically or mentally disabled, elderly or adults and children with HIV.

As a volunteer, you’ll assist with general care and companionship, distribute medications, help to feed and bathe patients, change beds, hold conversations as part of talk therapy, and take part in therapeutic arts and crafts.

If you’re in your third or fourth year of medical school, or a licensed medical professional, you can volunteer alongside local doctors and nurses. Some of the tasks include assisting with check-ups, helping with triage, taking a patient’s vital signs, organizing records, and more. Jobs you’ll perform depend on your Spanish language ability, your experience, and your qualifications. Learn more here.

Medical Internships in Latin America

Build a professional foundation for your medical career with a medical internship in Latin America through Maximo Nivel. Gain experience with practices and treatments of patients that spans differences in languages, cultures, illnesses, and resources.

Medical interns get a hands-on education when working in the developing world, especially in the areas of patient care and foreign healthcare systems. You’ll not only boost your practical knowledge, but you’ll also increase your knowledge of medical terminology in the Spanish language and improve your ability to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients.

You’ll work in clinics, hospitals, assisted-living facilities, and private practices in Costa Rica, Peru, or Guatemala, and learn valuable skills in diagnosis, intervention, and evaluation of diseases and injuries.

Depending upon your education, experience, and Spanish language skills, your work could include triage, patient consultations, check-ups, making rounds, elderly care, health education, materials management, and patient records.

Intermediate knowledge of Spanish is required, so if you need assistance with your Spanish language skills, Maximo Nivel offers online Spanish classes and a Native Spanish Program.

This internship requires a minimum of four weeks onsite, and you can expect to work four to six hours per day, Monday through Friday. This program is open to pre-med, medical, and nursing program students, as well as alternatively licensed medical professionals. You’ll need proof of medical education, training, certifications, and licenses, and a final project is required. Learn more and sign up here!

Special Education Internships

Tackle learning challenges with grace, become more patient and compassionate with students, and find joy in helping others when you participate in a Special Education Internship with Maximo Nivel. Teaching students with disabilities and special needs can be a difficult yet extremely rewarding experience, and one you won’t want to miss.

You’ll form strong relationships with your students and the teachers working as a teacher’s aide in a private school. You’ll work with individual students, conduct your own lessons, participate in teacher-to-teacher mentoring, learn about the education system in developing countries, and gain insight into special-needs curriculum standards and obstacles. Your students will have visual impairments, hearing impairments, physical impairments, and developmental disabilities.

Gain real-world experience in the classroom and learn about the challenges families of special needs students face. Learn how to measure students’ development and lead educational activities. You’ll need to be proficient in American Sign Language, and if you’re an expert, you’ll be able to help hearing-impaired students learn English as a second language.

Intermediate Spanish is required for your special education placement. Maximo Nivel offers online Spanish classes and a Native Spanish Program to help you improve your Spanish language skills. Read more and apply here!


Volunteer Forever - Volunteer Abroad in Mental Health, Psychology and Special Needs

Looking for a specialty program for a volunteer trip or internship overseas? Use Abroadly to research and compare affordable, high-quality programs in mental health, psychology and special needs care. Abroadly is Volunteer Forever’s new booking platform that invites you to apply for meaningful trips offered by reputable, trusted partners, and your application fee is 100% refundable if you aren’t accepted into your program of choice.

Abroadly connect travelers with more than 150 unique programs vetted for safety and long-term commitment to ethical and sustainable social impact in the areas of health and medicine, human rights, education, child and youth development, construction and community development, and sports and recreation.

By applying through Abroadly, you’ll have free access to Volunteer Forever’s crowdfunding platform, and enter for the chance to win a $500 scholarship – and your application fee is 100% refundable if you are not accepted into the program of your choice.

Volunteer with Disabled and Special Needs Children in Ghana

If you have a compassionate nature, you’ll appreciate this volunteer opportunity that supports children with special needs through education and rehabilitation sessions. Abroadly has partnered with Plan My Gap Year to provide assistance to Ghanaian children and young adults who live with physical disabilities or who are facing mental challenges. You’ll help out with a variety of tasks including basic education and life skills workshops, physical exercise programs, speech, and physical therapy, and sensory support. You can also help staff with feeding and washing, singing songs and playing games, and more.

On weekends, spend free time visiting museums, forts, palaces, and national parks, as well as the Green Ranch for horseback riding tours. Learn how to surf at the beach, and enjoy craft workshops and heritage dance performances. Tour the Prempeh II Jubilee Museum, which displays jewelry and ceremonial clothing belonging to the 20th-century Ashanti king. Program fees start at $624 for two weeks, with stays up to six months. Read more here and apply today!

Volunteer Abroad for Special Needs Support in Kerala, India

Travel to Kerala, India, and volunteer for special-needs support with Global Vision International. You’ll work in a local school as well as at a relief settlement, leading sessions, games, and playing sports. Guided by specialist teachers, you’ll participate in vocational training, assist with the children’s physical and educational development, and take part in therapeutic activities. No previous training is required, but experience in the health sector or in working with disabled people this would be beneficial.

Spend weekends and time off touring the city Kochi, a port town with a fascinating history and culture that includes the oldest European Church in India, an enchanting spice market, and the famous 15th Century Chinese fishing nets. Fees for this program start at $1,500 for two weeks, with stays up to 12 weeks. Learn more and apply here!


Volunteer Forever - Volunteer Abroad in Mental Health, Psychology and Special Needs

GoEco connects volunteers to more than 150 projects around the globe, including community initiatives focused on mental health, psychology, and special needs. A top-rated volunteer organization, GoEco was created by experienced volunteers and all programs have been carefully vetted for safety, quality, and ethical commitment. They’ve won several awards, notably the Top Volunteer Abroad Organization in 2015 from GoAbroad. Check out some recommended projects below.

Guiding People with Special Needs in Tel Aviv, Israel

Collaborating with a non-profit organization that started in 1991, this project aims to integrate people with special needs into their communities. Based on your preferences and experience, your volunteer work may include teaching infants and toddlers with developmental delays (minimum of 4 weeks), doing employment skills training for adults with mental and physical disabilities, and helping with activities at a social club. It’s really an impactful program—and you can make a difference right away.

When you’re not volunteering, explore Tel Aviv. From the artsy neighborhood of Neve Tzedek to the Eretz Israel Museum, this is a city with plenty to do and see. Ready to go? Project fees begin at $720 for one week. Get all the info here!

Healthcare and Community Outreach in Livingstone, Zambia

Pack your bags and join GoEco in Livingstone, Zambia. There, you’ll assist poorly resourced and understaffed medical clinics in a variety of ways. For the program, you can do everything from home-based care and elderly home care to HIV/AIDS education in prisons. As a volunteer, you’ll not only educate patients about diseases, physical health, and the importance of adhering to a medication regimen, you’ll also be a friend and provide them the opportunity to socialize. That’s vital to ensure they’re in good spirits.

What’s also nice is that Livingstone is right near Victoria Falls (be sure to visit!). So, are you interested? Project fees begin at $1,530 for two weeks. Find out more here!

Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh Community Involvement

Volunteer in the big city of Ho Chi Minh at the placement of your choosing! Volunteers can work with children with special needs, join a food outreach program or assist at a local kindergarten. No matter the placement choice, you can be sure to be helping out the local community. Learn more here.

The Intern Group

Volunteer Forever - Volunteer Abroad in Mental Health, Psychology and Special Needs

The Intern Group places 2,000 individuals each year with renowned NGOs and important global employers. Founded in 2011, the award-winning social enterprise has been featured in Forbes, TIME, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and CNN. It works with top applicants from 600 different universities to develop customized professional development internships in North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The Intern Group’s mission is to develop an innovative and culturally sensitive generation prepared to address the issues that affect the world today and tomorrow. Interns receive assistance with visas, as well as developmental workshops, career training, social and cultural events, quality housing, and in-country support.

Psychology Internship in Dublin, Ireland

Study human behavior on a psychology placement with the Intern Group in Dublin, Ireland. Psychology is one of the most popular academic pursuits and is a competitive field once you graduate. Jumpstart your career with an internship that lets you put into context what you’ve learned in the classroom. Work with NGOs and focus on mental health or substance abuse, or focus on statistical or data analysis and research. Successful interns have worked with Youth Work Ireland, an established NGO with more than 150 projects and 300 youth clubs across the island nation. Gain valuable connections, build close relationships, and enjoy weekend adventures in Dublin, such as the Guinness Storehouse tour, the EPIC Ireland exhibit, an Irish dance party, a trip to the Cliffs of Moher, and a literary night. Placement fees start at $4,869 for six weeks, and you’re invited to stay up to six months. Learn more and sign up here!

Social Work and Healthcare Internship in Madrid

Pursuing a career in mental health? Apply for a social work Internship in Madrid that allows you to work alongside people of all ages, ethnicities, education levels, and socioeconomic statuses. This hands-on experience through the Intern Group permits you to make a difference in a vulnerable community overseas. You’ll enhance your resume and stand out as a top candidate in the competitive job market of psychology. Work with major international social work organizations, such as One Young World, that focus on access to healthcare and education. This placement includes social events such as a Flamenco dance show and dinner and a tour of Santiago Bernabéu. You’ll also visit Toledo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fees for this program start at $4,570 for six weeks, with stays up to six months. Read more and apply today!

Mental Health Internship in Colombia

Visit Medellin, Colombia on a mental health internship and gain hands-on experience with a variety of medical treatments, from psychiatry to clinical medicine. The Intern Group partners with private and public hospitals where you can network with medical professionals and interact with patients to learn more about treatments in public health sectors. Gain practical hands-on experience in a variety of roles, including research, clinical trials, policy, fundraising, advocacy, and outreach to promote awareness. You must have completed two years of medical school, and have a basic understanding of Spanish. If your language skills need improving, you can sign up for an intensive two-week language course in Colombia before starting your elective abroad. Spend weekends exploring the city by taking a walking tour- there also are many cinemas, museums, and restaurants to occupy your free time. Program fees begin at $2,490 for two weeks, with longer stays available. Learn more and apply here!

Join an NGO for Psychology Research in London

Check out this international NGO internship in London that invites you to learn how to conduct research to improve treatment for a specific mental health issue, and increase public awareness about mental health. The Intern Group partners with NGOs and hospitals that provide customized professional development opportunities for students interested in working alongside experts to learn about drug addiction and other mental health issues. London is an amazing destination, full of culture, art, and history. While you’re in town, your internship calendar includes an Afternoon Tea service, a Thames River cruise, and a trip on the London Eye attraction. You’ll also catch a show at a West End Theater. Enjoy street festivals like the Notting Hill Carnival, and make sure you stop by Buckingham Palace. Stay six weeks or longer – program fees begin at $4,841. Read more and apply today!


Volunteer Forever - Volunteer Abroad in Mental Health, Psychology and Special Needs

With unique programs across more than 15 countries, Fronteering is known for its commitment to developing high-quality programs that uplift the communities they serve. When it comes to projects aimed at improving the lives of mentally disabled people and those with mental health needs, they have several great options.

What’s also nice about Fronteering is that they have affordable program fees and are transparent about how that money is used. No wonder they get great reviews from previous participants.

Interested in being a volunteer with Fronteering? Check out some of their amazing programs for volunteering abroad in mental health, psychology, and special needs.

Volunteer at a Children’s Autism and Horse Therapy Ranch in Mississippi, USA

Head to a 200-acre ranch in the rolling hills of Mississippi and volunteer to help children with autism through interactions with therapy animals, such as horses and dogs. Your main duty will be to assist with therapy sessions as the kids ride the horses and interact with them. This is all in an effort to boost the children’s self-esteem and happiness and help them improve socially. You also will be to care for the horses by feeding them, cleaning enclosures, and maintaining the grounds.

A truly heartwarming experience, this project also gives you the chance to go horse riding during your free time. How awesome is that? The fees begin at $1,295 for the first week, with stays up to four weeks available.

Volunteer at a Hospital in Accra, Ghana

Fronteering offers a great program in Accra that’s designed to help understaffed and under-resourced hospitals give patients better care and improve outcomes. Not only can you learn about medical care in Ghana and the issues the system faces there, but you’ll also work with local doctors and medical professionals. As an assistant, you’ll help out with treating those with special needs and those suffering from mental illness, as well as other patients in need at the hospital.

Please note experience related to healthcare is required. Depending on your level of education and experience, your role may be more or less hands-on. The program includes a two-day trip to Kakum National Park, as well as plenty of time to explore Accra. The fees begin at $1,495 for four weeks, with stays up to eight weeks available.

Love Volunteers

Volunteer Forever - Volunteer Abroad in Mental Health, Psychology and Special Needs

Founded in 2009 with the goal of offering volunteers impactful, affordable, transparent, and safe projects around the world, Love Volunteers has been delivering on their mission ever since. They’re recognized as one of the top volunteering organizations in the world and are simply an excellent choice if you’re looking for mental health, psychology, and special needs volunteer programs abroad. Love Volunteers operates in more than 40 countries, so your options are plenty, too!

Interested to learn more about programs offered by Love Volunteers? Read on!

Healthcare Volunteering in Kenya

Join Love Volunteers at Diani Beach, where you’ll volunteer to combat the ongoing drug epidemic in the area. As a volunteer, you’ll be helping run a drug awareness community center that aims to provide essential care to vulnerable drug users, reduce the transmission rate of diseases, and give users the compassion and support they need to overcome addiction. You’ll truly have the opportunity to transform lives during this project. Please note there is a minimum age requirement of 21 years old, as you will witness intravenous drug use and other conditions that aren’t for the faint of heart.

During off-hours, you can enjoy the beauty of Diani Beach and the Indian Ocean. Project fees begin at just $299 for one week, with stays up to 12 weeks available.

Ready to Travel?

When it comes to mental health issues, the bottom line is that there is a lot of important work to be done and not enough people willing to do it. This is your chance to step up and make a true difference!