Feature

With psychological factors playing a significant role in America's fight against terrorism, APA is marshalling psychology's resources and expertise to contribute to the national cause.

Spearheading that effort is APA's Subcommittee on Psychology's Response to Terrorism, appointed by the Board of Directors just after Sept. 11. The group is charged with coordinating psychology's multifaceted response to terrorism, which ranges from ensuring Americans have access to the mental health resources they need to cope with the aftermath and threat of terrorist attacks to providing policy-makers with the best psychological science.

"Psychology played significant roles in the war efforts during both world wars of the last century," says Ronald F. Levant, EdD, the subcommittee's chair and APA's recording secretary. "So, too, can psychology contribute scientific knowledge and expertise to the goal of ending and addressing terrorism."

The subcommittee has met several times and received "a tremendous outpouring of ideas" from APA's boards and committees during the October consolidated meetings, says subcommittee member Laura Barbanel, EdD. "They talked about psychology's input regarding intergroup relations, civil relations and resilience, and about APA's work to define new roles for psychologists in the wake of these terrorists acts," says Barbanel. "The psychology of all these issues is on the docket."

Psychology's outreach

Among the subcommittee's first priorities is drafting a resolution on terrorism that, if approved by APA governance, would "give the association the foundation it needs to work on terrorism issues," says Levant.

Other priorities of APA and its subcommittee include:

  • Consulting with government officials. APA has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on airline security concerns and the Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy on training issues. In addition, the association maintains close contact with psychologists who work in such government agencies as the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Threat Assessment Center of the U.S. Secret Service. APA is also working to see that psychology informs the activities of the Office of Homeland Security.

  • Tapping members' expertise. APA's Science Directorate is coordinating efforts to identify psychologists who are conducting research with relevance to the antiterrorism effort. So far, dozens of APA members have offered to help or have suggested experts to contact. Meanwhile, APA's Science Directorate has posted on its Web site access to emergency grants given by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health in response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

  • Advocating for legislation to increase mental health resources and access to care. APA is supporting the Post Terrorism Mental Health Improvement Act, introduced by Edward M. Kennedy (D­Mass.). The bill calls for providing more money to improve states' response capabilities in ensuring that people who need mental health services as a result of terrorist acts get them.

  • Working with the federal government on services for children. APA has submitted a proposal to the Child, Adolescent and Family Branch of the U.S. Center for Mental Health Services to produce educational materials for those who work with children before, during and after disasters. The project also includes an evaluation component that would test the success of these interventions so they can be updated and improved as needed.

  • Reflecting on psychology's education and training. The terrorist attacks have been a stimulus for psychology to contemplate its curricula, says APA Education Director Cynthia Belar, PhD. "It's prompted us to ask whether we are preparing psychologists to meet societal needs, both in research and practice." The most immediate upshot of that reflection has been offering more continuing education on coping with stress and trauma, such as at APA's fourth Annual CE Winter Weekend at the Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 7­10.

Meanwhile, APA's Board of Educational Affairs (BEA) has passed a resolution calling for BEA to "actively encourage the education community to examine the teaching of psychology, the education and training of future psychologists and the application of psychology to education." And the Council of Chairs of Training Councils (CCTC) has resolved to work with APA's Education Directorate on education and training in this realm.

  • Offering information to the public. APA continues to provide information on coping with trauma, stress, anxiety and grief. (Visit the APA Help Center at helping.apa.org.) Several groups have linked their Web sites to APA's, including the U.S. Department of Education. APA has also been reaching out to the public through two public service announcements--one specifically targeting parents. In addition, APA's Public Communications Office has created materials to help people cope with the threat of anthrax. The information, made available in October, was picked up by national radio and the Associated Press and was lauded in a Washington Post editorial.

  • Providing information on self-care to psychologists. APA has posted to its Web site "Tapping Your Resilience in the Wake of Terrorism," a document that urges practitioners to be attuned to their own self-care in the wake of the attacks. The document offers self-help and professional strategies. It was developed by APA's Board of Professional Affairs Advisory Committee on Colleague Assistance.

  • Preparing for future crises. Chapters of the APA/Red Cross Disaster Response Network continue to be prepared to intervene in cases of future attacks.

Future work

The subcommittee is now exploring future options for psychology's involvement, many of them based on suggestions from APA's boards and committees. Among them is developing some kind of stress-management program for the public.

"The aim of the terrorists is to create overwhelming stress," says Levant. "We have the expertise to help people deal with stress in different ways."

It appears that the public is looking for guidance from psychologists. Indeed, mental health care has gained greater acceptance in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, says Russ Newman, PhD, JD, APA executive director for practice.

"Seeking psychological services has become more normalized," Newman says. "People see a need and aren't as uncomfortable about getting help."

Subcommittee on Psychology's Response to Terrorism members

Ronald F. Levant, EdD, APA Recording Secretary

Laura Barbanel, EdD, APA Board Member

Nate Perry, PhD, APA Board Member

Derek Snyder, Chair, American Psychological Association of Graduate Students

Kurt Salzinger, PhD, APA Executive Director for Science

Cynthia Belar, PhD, APA Executive Director for Education

Rhea K. Farberman, APA Executive Director for Public and Member Communications

Russ Newman, PhD, JD, APA Executive Director for Practice

Henry Tomes, PhD, APA Executive Director for the Public Interest

Gary VandenBos, PhD, APA Executive Director for Publications and Communications