Psychology doctoral student Lindsay Sinclair had been at her internship at Louisiana State University (LSU) Health Sciences Center in New Orleans for only two months when Hurricane Katrina struck. The hurricane, which devastated the Gulf Coast, severely damaged parts of the LSU site, closing it down at least until January. Sinclair, who was able to evacuate safely beforehand, was unsure she would even have an internship to return to.
Still, she realizes she was relatively lucky: Her apartment just outside New Orleans remained intact, and she had the option to remain an LSU intern at a relocated internship site in Baton Rouge in October. However, Sinclair wanted to start piecing her life back together as soon as possible. With the help of the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC), she was able to start a new internship at Miami's Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Florida about two weeks after the hurricane.
Sinclair was among 17 predoctoral interns based in New Orleans at four sites--Tulane University School of Medicine, LSU's School of Medicine, the New Orleans Veterans Administration Medical Center and the Louisiana School Psychology Internship Consortium--who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Six postdoctoral fellows in New Orleans were also displaced as well as hundreds of psychology students.
Numerous psychology organizations and universities across the country have pitched in to help these students and postdocs--offering them internships and postdoctoral fellowships or temporary enrollment in classes.
For example, psychology departments at the University of Iowa, University of Kansas, University of Miami and Virginia Tech, among many other places, were accepting psychology students into their programs. And, Oklahoma State University is offering Web-based three-credit courses in educational psychology to Katrina-affected students for the semester.
In fact, of the 17 interns, 12 have found alternate placements, four are staying in the New Orleans area at different sites of their placements and one decided to defer until next year, says former APPIC Chair Nadine Kaslow, PhD, who spearheaded the placing of psychology students in new internships.
"The students, faculty, staff, all APPIC members and graduate schools have been incredibly collaborative, resilient and cooperative," Kaslow says. "It's a wonderful statement on how effectively people can cope in incredible tragedy."
Indeed, psychology students from across the country reached out to help their affected peers rebuild their lives.
Though former New Orleans psychology intern Samantha Wilson was an evacuee herself--she escaped the hurricane only hours before it hit New Orleans--she wanted to help other evacuees who were less fortunate. Wilson stayed with friends in Houston following the hurricane.
During those two weeks, the former Tulane Health Sciences Center intern sent around e-mails asking for donations from her hometown in St. Louis, Mo. In a matter of days, she received in the mail a 520-pound freight filled with food, clothes, toys and games for children that she then dispersed to evacuees in Houston.
She also volunteered at the Astrodome, where evacuees from the Gulf were transported. She visited there five times, helping to organize donations and sharing stories with the evacuees.
"Just giving information to people and listening to their stories is what many needed," says Wilson, a fifth-year clinical psychology student at St. Louis University.
At the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Miss.--about 100 miles from the Gulf Coast--students and faculty were also helpers and victims simultaneously, says Mark Leach, PhD, director of training in the counseling psychology program. Psychology students took some students as clients at the university's counseling center, school psychology students traveled to the Gulf Coast to talk with school teachers about what behaviors they could expect from their students and some counseling psychology students helped with cleanup efforts in neighborhoods.
About a month after the hurricane, Amanda Williams, a third-year counseling psychology doctoral student at Ball State University, traveled with her supervisor and three other psychology students to Lumberton, Miss., to work as mental health counselors for two weeks with the American Red Cross.
"After watching the news reports, it's hard not to want to do something," Williams says. "And from a professional standpoint, one of the main components in psychology is outreach."
Soon after the hurricane hit, she joined other psychology students to form a committee at Ball State to help with disaster relief. They worked with their local Red Cross to organize blood drives and a telethon to raise money for hurricane victims.
As for Wilson, she began her new internship at the University of Southern Florida in Tampa on Sept. 21. And while she's moved on, she isn't looking past New Orleans. She plans to get involved in Habitat for Humanity to rebuild area houses. She also hopes to return to New Orleans for her postdoc.
Sinclair doubts she will ever return, but she's grateful to those who helped her get her training back on track after the hurricane.
"I'm very pleased with how helpful everyone has been--the training directors, family, friends and people at different sites," says Sinclair, a fifth-year clinical psychology student at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "Everyone has been very understanding and so willing to help us out."
APA's Education Directorate lists assistance for students affected by Hurricane Katrina at www.apa.org/ed.