In July, Samantha Wilson, a clinical psychology student at St. Louis University, moved to New Orleans to start her predoctoral internship at Tulane University Health Sciences Center. The site offered a perfect match for her
interests-an opportunity to help conduct psychological research on neglected or abused infants and toddlers.
But after she'd been at the internship for two months, Hurricane Katrina ripped across the Gulf Coast, leaving 80 percent of New Orleans underwater and abruptly ending her training.
Wilson was one of 17 New Orleans psychology interns ousted from their homes by Katrina's floodwaters and left uncertain about the status of their internships-which they need to graduate. Six psychology postdoctoral fellows in New Orleans also lost their placements, along with hundreds of other psychology students and many faculty members along the Gulf Coast.
But, with the help of the psychology education community, many of these students have found alternative internships, postdocs or temporary places to take psychology classes. And some universities have offered displaced faculty visiting appointments or interim office space to continue their research.
Wilson is a case in point: Two weeks after the hurricane, she was getting her life back on track. With the help of the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC), she found a new internship at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Richard Weinberg, PhD, director of the university's Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute, secured funds through the Children's Board of Hillsborough County in Florida to allow her to pursue another of her interests-behavioral health policy work.
"It was very sad to leave New Orleans in its time of need," Wilson says. "There's a pull for me to stay there and help rebuild, but I'm not at a point where I can do that.…I'm very fortunate to have options in Tampa."
Former APPIC Chair Nadine Kaslow, PhD, who spearheaded the placing of psychology students in new internships, says that students, faculty, staff and graduate schools have been resilient and cooperative in supporting one another.
"It's a wonderful statement to how effectively people can cope in incredible tragedy," Kaslow says.
Faculty, students reach out
Indeed, the psychology higher-education community and various education and training organizations offered more than new internships and student transfers: They also donated food and clothing and provided financial and mental health support, showing high responsiveness in offering resources for Hurricane Katrina-affected students and faculty, says APA Executive Director for Education Cynthia Belar, PhD.
Just a few examples of assistance include:
Financial support. APA offered grants up to $5,000 each-totaling $50,000-to psychology education and training departments for replacing destroyed supplies, books, journals, teaching resources and other hurricane losses. Also, APA offered one-year exemptions for accreditation and continuing-education sponsor fees of accredited programs affected by Katrina. At Monitor press time, applications for the grants and exemptions were still being reviewed.
Relocation for students and faculty. In one of many efforts to relocate evacuees, Div. 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology) and the Council of Counseling Psychology Training Programs (CCPTP) formed a task force to identify APA-approved counseling psychology sites willing to enroll displaced students.
Many universities also offered refuge for students and faculty, among them Cornell University, the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, the University of Memphis and West Virginia University. Oklahoma State University offered Web-based three-credit courses in educational psychology to Katrina-affected students for the semester.
APPIC also helped displaced interns and postdocs find new sites. At Monitor press time, 12 of the 17 predoctoral interns had found alternate placements, four had elected to stay with their current placements-but at different sites-and one had decided to defer for the following year, Kaslow says.
Outreach and training. The Arizona Association of School Psychologists (AASP) identified school psychologists, counselors and social workers who could help children with school re-enrollment for the more than 500 hurricane evacuees who arrived in Phoenix. They provided immediate crisis and trauma-intervention counseling to students and families and screened students to identify educational needs.
"We had so many people wanting to help that we organized a crash course on team crisis and trauma intervention," says Mary Arredondo, PhD, AASP board member and central regional director. The workshop, held Sept. 30, was a joint effort of AASP, the Arizona Psychological Association, the Arizona State University School of Psychology Department and the U.S. Department of Education. At the workshop, about 100 clinical psychologists, school psychologists and coordinators of services for homeless students learned strategies for working with school-age children and consulting with interdisciplinary teams in crisis situations.
Donations. Even as an evacuee herself, Wilson wanted to help other evacuees who lost everything in the hurricane. She sent e-mails asking for donations from family, friends and former colleagues. In days, she received a 520-pound shipment from her hometown of St. Louis, Mo., filled with food, clothes and toys that she dispensed to evacuees in Houston.
University of Florida (UF) clinical and health psychology faculty, graduate students, interns and postdocs pulled together to help 50 extended family members of UF clinical associate psychology professor Duane Dede, PhD. They collected donations-from bed frames and mattresses to clothing and children's toys-and hauled them to Alabama, where the family was staying.
"While it's part of the research culture of our department to study disaster relief, this made it very personal to our department by helping Duane's family," says Ronald Rozensky, PhD, chair of UF's clinical and health psychology department. In fact, responding to disasters is nothing new for the UF program, which also helped with relief efforts after four hurricanes struck Florida last year. The department also used its manual "Triumph over Tragedy: A Community Response to Managing Traumas in Times of Disaster and Terrorism" to train county extension officials in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Mental health support. At the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg-about 100 miles from the Gulf Coast-students and faculty were helpers and victims simultaneously. Psychology students took on students as clients at the university's counseling center and school psychology students traveled to the Gulf Coast to talk with school teachers about the behaviors they could expect as students returned after the hurricane, many having lost their homes. Some counseling psychology students also helped with neighborhood clean-up efforts.
While the outreach and support continues, the healing for evacuees has just begun.
"It was amazing, personally and professionally, how generous people have been with their time and resources," says Christina Hall, a Louisiana State University (LSU) Health Sciences Center clinical intern in New Orleans, who received several offers to relocate to mental health centers
in California, Georgia and Texas. Ultimately, she decided to stay at her LSU internship, which relocated to Baton Rouge and reopened in October.
"I've been taking it as a learning experience-learning what's really important in life," says Hall, a fifth-year doctoral psychology student at the California School of Professional Psychology of Alliant International University, who earned a psychology bachelor's from Tulane University. "It has been a test in stress management."
Hall evacuated the day before the hurricane, which caused 6 feet of flooding in her apartment building. After the storm, she remained in Houston until evacuating to Florida a few weeks later because of Hurricane Rita. She is now working with Hurricane Katrina victims as part of her clinical rotations with her LSU internship in Baton Rouge.
"These are once in a lifetime experiences-working with these populations and within this environment," Hall says. "It's more of a healing process for me to stay and be part of the rebuilding process."
Wilson also feels a strong pull to return to New Orleans.
"It could have been me," she says, referring to the graphic images she watched on the news of people unable to evacuate the flood-ravaged city and desperate for food and water. Wilson was one of the last people able to get gas in New Orleans before making a 19-hour trek in heavy traffic to Houston.
"I felt very fortunate because I had a large safety net for me and a lot of people wanted to help me," Wilson says. While her home escaped the hurricane mostly unscathed, some of her former supervisors' and colleagues' homes were flooded to the ceiling.
Besides collecting donations, Wilson also volunteered shortly after the hurricane at Houston's Astrodome, where she organized donations and talked with evacuees, providing them with information and reassurance about assistance available to them. She also posted on the Internet names of evacuees looking for lost loved ones.
Wilson plans to get involved in Habitat for Humanity to rebuild houses in New Orleans later this year and hopes to return to the city for her postdoc next year.
"I will definitely keep the city and its people close to my heart," she says.