Updated for 2023-2024
Mental health and special needs are important issues 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.
Another program in particular that you will want to check out is Maximo Nivel, which offers tons of volunteer opportunities in Latin America, including medical volunteer projects and special needs internships. If you are looking for an opportunity outside Latin America, then check out GoEco’s Special Needs program in Israel.
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 (IVHQ) provides affordable volunteer programs in 40+ countries worldwide. An innovative organization, IVHQ works with local organizations and NGOs to offer more than 300 programs that deliver sustainable value for communities and for the environment. Since its start in 2007, IVHQ has sent over 130,000 individuals abroad annually. With program fees starting at only $20/day, this is an affordable option for travelers on a budget. 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.
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 in hospitals and community clinics, 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 a volunteer dormitory at a Tourism College nearby. Program fees start at $300 for one week. Read more about this program here.
If you hold qualifications for Special Education and/or Physical Therapies, or you’re wrapping up your studies in the fields, consider an IVHQ program in Athens, Greece. As a Special Needs Care volunteer, you’ll work under the supervision of teachers at an activity center that provides care and education for disabled children. Tasks include helping the local staff with outdoor activities such as swimming, sports, as well as indoor activities like crafts and cooking. From this project, you will understand the challenges that they may face. Accommodation includes staying in a dorm style hostel in the heart of Athens. In your free time, you can wander and learn about ancient Greek history! IVHQ’s Greece program starts at $1345 for the three weeks. Click here to learn more!
An oft-overlooked segment of the population, the elderly in Guatemala need your compassionate and friendly assistance. This IVHQ elder care program in Antigua, Guatemala places volunteers at local organizations to help seniors with recreational activities, provide one-on-one attention, assist in healthcare, and to socialize with them. Most of the elders are from low-income families and rely on local service organizations for their basic needs. As a volunteer, you’ll help to organize exercise programs, medicine distribution, and meal preparation. 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 $385 for one week. Learn more and apply here!
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 $385 for one week. Read about this program here!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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:
- Learn from professionals about diagnosis and treatment
- Observe or assist with play therapy sessions
- Give presentations on mental health to raise awareness
- 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.
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:
- Conduct research and write reports on mental health in the Mongolian context
- Shadow psychologists during consultations
- Learn from professionals and share your knowledge with them
- 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.
Searching for a transformative experience abroad? Involvement Volunteers International (IVI), established in 1989, beckons individuals to be part of 25,000 volunteers who’ve positively impacted 112 projects in 23 countries.
Boasting a 34-year legacy, IVI is a unique non-profit. Their focus? Empowering communities in the South Pacific (Fiji) and India. Beyond just travel and volunteering, IVI delves deep into humanitarian aid, supporting impoverished communities and refugees. University students also find opportunities to complete practicum hours in diverse sectors such as health and teaching.
Diverse Opportunities for Volunteering, Interning, and Teaching
IVI offers teaching projects for various age groups, primarily 3-12. For those eyeing internships, there are openings in medical, teaching, and physiotherapy across destinations such as Peru, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. These internships come with guaranteed hours and essential documentation for university placements.
Catering to all Travelers
Solo traveler, family, or group, IVI has something for everyone. From teaching to construction, their projects cater to different needs. They even curate specialized itineraries for larger groups, making them a top pick for school expeditions. For those aged 16-17, parental consent is mandatory.
Curious about IVI? Explore their story on their official website: volunteering.org.au. With IVI, an enriching global adventure awaits!
If you are passionate about supporting children with special needs, then definitely check out IVI’s special needs school assistance project in Fiji. With over one third of the population below the poverty line, malnutrition, and low literacy rates, Fijian communities desperately need the support of international volunteers. IVI offers two opportunities in Fiji for special needs: (1) Nadi, which is the main tourist hub of Fiji and (2) Lautoka, which is a working class harbor town. As part of these projects, you will volunteer in schools that cater to children and young adults aged 5 to 20. You will have the opportunity to help feed, care, teach, play fun games with special needs children. You can also support movement classes, physiotherapy, & speech therapy if you have the requisite skills. Project fees are extremely affordable starting at just $395 and includes accommodation, meals, airport pickup, 24/7 in-country support and so much more. Click here to learn more.
Located in Vietnam’s most populous city of Ho Chi Minh City, IVI’s special needs care project in Vietnam is a wonderful opportunity to support Vietnamese children with disabilities. As part of this project, you will volunteer in a special needs home of 20-25 children with a variety of disabilities. You will have the opportunity to engage in fun activities with the children, including singing, playing, face painting, art, and more! Project fees are affordable starting at just $465 per week and includes accommodation, meals, airport pickup, 24/7 in-country support and so much more. Click here to learn more.
Volunteering Solutions (VolSol) is an international volunteer organization that was started in 2007. Since then, they have hosted over 17,000 volunteers in projects across 27 countries, including popular destinations such as Nepal, India, Thailand, South Africa, Peru, and Costa Rica.
In addition to their 120+ volunteer projects, Volunteering Solutions also offers intern abroad opportunities, the highlight of which are their international medical internships.
Travel to Cusco to volunteer with a school that cares for and supports children suffering from deafness and other mental challenges. As a volunteer, you can help with a variety of support activities, including looking after the children, helping with their personal development and hygiene education, designing program curriculum alongside local staff, and even assisting with administrative and behind-the-scenes activities, such as updating the center’s website and writing reports and articles. This program starts from one week at $510.
The Delhi-based special needs care program gives volunteers the opportunity to help at one of three centers: the Special Education Center, Skill Development Center, and Autism Center. As a volunteer, you can help the local staff as needed and assist with taking care of children, including teaching them and supporting specific skill development/enhancement. This program starts from one week at $250.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!