Feature

APA has donated $100,000 to the American Red Cross and will disseminate information on the psychological effects of trauma to aid in relief efforts for survivors of the Dec. 26 tsunami that ripped across Southeast Asia and eastern parts of Africa.

The 9.0 magnitude earthquake that shook the Indian Ocean floor sent waves that washed away entire cities and left millions homeless and more than 147,000 dead--resulting in an enormous psychological, as well as economic and physical, toll on its victims.

"In a catastrophe of such overwhelming proportions, the discipline of psychology with its interest and expertise in human welfare, can't stand on the sidelines," says APA President Ronald F. Levant, EdD.

On Jan. 6, the APA Board of Directors acted to allocate finances and resources to assist in relief efforts, such as by making information available to help survivors understand the psychological trauma, grief, loss and depression caused by such an event. As required by the Association Bylaws, the Council of Representatives was also informed of the board action.

The APA board took the unprecedented action of making a substantial financial contribution to the relief effort because of the magnitude of the disaster and the degree of human suffering, says APA CEO Norman Anderson, PhD.

"The APA financial donation is designed to address the greatest need at this time," Anderson says. "But we also wanted to respond to the disaster in ways that are unique to psychology."

Indeed, APA officers note that the association and its members have a long history of lending assistance when disasters occur in the United States. Psychologists helped victims in the aftermath of earlier disasters, such as assisting in relief efforts during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., as well as helping victims in tornados, hurricanes and other such natural disasters.

"We want to make psychologists' expertise available in useful and helpful ways," says Rhea Farberman, executive director of APA's Public and Member Communications Office. APA wanted to find a way to help in the tragedy since psychologists have expertise and a history of helping victims of domestic disasters, but "we also recognized the special challenges of providing assistance in counties and cultures not familiar to many of our members," Farberman says. As such, a number of the APA responses are based on APA reaching out to psychological associations within or close to affected countries to lend whatever assistance is needed.

While the present need among survivors is food and shelter, Levant says: "It's not going to be long before the mental health needs come to the forefront. And there will be an overwhelming need for mental health services in an area that has few resources in mental health."

Given such mental health needs, APA--besides donating to the Red Cross Tsunami Relief fund--will:

  • Remain in contact with the American Red Cross regarding the role APA's Disaster Response Network (DRN) and types of assistance psychologists can provide to survivors. The DRN's 2,000 volunteer psychologists are trained in disaster response and offer assistance and emotional support to victims and their families and relief workers.

  • Recommend that the American Red Cross collaborate with APA and the DRN to provide assistance to Southeast Asian people in the United States affected by the tsunami, such as those with family members who may have died or are missing, as well as returning vactioners or emergency personnel who were in the affected areas.

  • Coordinate APA relief activities with partner organizations with international expertise and experience with the affected populations. Mental health services must be linguistically and culturally relevant to those in need, Levant emphasizes.

  • Educate people in the affected countries and worldwide through the dissemination of press releases and other media materials about the possible effects of traumatic events and how to recover from them.

  • Make materials available--such as via APA's Web site--to inform and update APA members and the public about APA's response to the tsunami and psychologists' expertise on trauma and coping after natural disasters. The information includes tips for adults and children on managing traumatic stress and building resilience.

  • Tap APA's media referral service to provide the media with expert psychologists who can speak on the tsunami's psychological effects.

Psychologists offer help in the tsunami aftermath

In the March issue, the Monitor will feature stories from psychologists who were on the ground in Sri Lanka and Thailand assisting in tsunami relief efforts.