From the CEO

In my last column, I reported on the first phase of the APA response to the tsunami disaster, which involved an APA donation of $100,000 to the American Red Cross, and the initiation of a number of other in-kind activities related to the tsunami recovery effort. From the hundreds of e-mails APA received, it was clear that our members also wanted APA to do more to aid in addressing the mental health aspects of the disaster.

To that end, APA entered a contract with Dr. Gerard Jacobs of the University of South Dakota, one of the world's authorities on the mental health needs of disaster survivors, to assist APA in determining the most appropriate next steps for the association in helping to meet the mental health needs of the affected region (see the press release at APA Media Information).

In this column, I provide an overview of the next phase of the APA relief effort. This next phase was recently endorsed by APA's Board of Directors and its Council of Representatives.

Guiding principles

Dr. Jacobs recommended that APA's actions in meeting the mental health needs of those affected by the Asian tsunami follow a set of guiding principles. These principles specify that APA's efforts should be:

  • In support of disaster relief efforts in areas most affected by the tsunami, where the death and injury toll was the highest, especially Thailand, India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia

  • Directed toward disaster response programs that meet international standards for psychological support, as set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Sphere project.

  • Conducted in coordination with established international nongovernmental organizations or U.N. agencies (e.g., WHO, IFRC, Asian Disaster Preparedness Center).

  • Focused on training indigenous providers and building capacity within mental health systems, rather than on direct service provision by expatriates to indigenous peoples.

  • Focused on efforts that develop sustainable programs that can be supported and maintained by indigenous providers for long-term recovery.

Actions APA will take

The APA Board of Directors and the Council of Representatives considered Dr. Jacobs' recommendations and authorized up to $150,000 to fund a range of activities. The core focus of these activities will be to build psychology's individual and organizational capacity to address post-tsunami mental health needs in the affected region (for a complete listing of actions, go to Tsunami Relief Report). The actions include:

  • Develop a cadre of experts to serve as mentors and consultants to providers and the media.

  • Collaborate with the International Union of Psychological Science on a workshop to develop skills, resources and networks in support of mental health services in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster.

  • Provide one or two workshop participants from reach of the affected countries the opportunity to obtain more in-depth training in disaster psychology.

  • Develop informational and educational materials on ethical issues in providing service and doing research involving the Asian tsunami.

  • Encourage education about trauma and disaster in psychology training programs.

  • Allow indigenous providers in affected countries access to APA electronic products.

  • Post relevant educational material on the APA Web site.

  • Provide a venue at APA's 2005 Annual Convention for a discussion of projects involving the provision of psychological support regarding the tsunami.

  • Ask the American Red Cross to work with the APA Disaster Response Network to serve the needs of family members of those directly affected by the tsunami who currently reside in the United States.

Of course, much more work remains to specify the details of the above activities and recommendations. The APA coordinator of this phase of our tsunami relief activities, Dr. Merry Bullock, will work closely with Dr. Jacobs and international organizations to shape a final plan. You will hear about progress in how these activities foster the provision of mental health services now and in the future, and how they serve to build capacity for the long term.