In Brief

Focus groups that APA conducted in October and November found, not surprisingly, that the events of Sept. 11 caused fear, stress, anxiety, shock and frustration, and compelled people to look inward and assess their lives and their ability to be resilient.

Six focus groups--no fewer than 10 members of the general public--were facilitated by APA's Practice Directorate across the country. The groups were held "to ascertain what we should or should not do with the Public Education Campaign with respect to Sept. 11," says Jan Peterson, assistant executive director for public relations in APA's Practice Directorate. The first two focus groups were held in October in Indianapolis, the second two were held the first week in November in California, and the fifth and sixth groups met in Baltimore during the second week of November.

The focus groups revealed that people were feeling a sense of uncertainty about the future. The first group admitted they were "waiting for the other shoe to drop." However, the intense level of uncertainty lessened considerably between the first set of groups and the last, more than two weeks later. Despite uncertainty, the groups were confident that most of the general public would "bounce back" from the initial emotional impact of the attacks.

"It became clear that a separate public education campaign track focusing on the fallout from Sept. 11 wasn't warranted," says Peterson. "But something else emerged from the groups. The events of Sept. 11 have opened a window to self-discovery. People want to learn about themselves."

In particular, people were interested in learning how to become more resilient. Participants responded positively to discussions about self-discovery and personal strengths. They saw self-discovery as a "beneficial and positive process." Messages cast in what group members perceived as a negative light--such as coping with uncertainty or dealing with change--were seen as demoralizing.

The focus groups' results were echoed in findings from a literature review by psychologist James Pann, PhD, director of consulting for Counseling & Educational Consulting Inc. in Miami. He looked at previous studies on how disasters affect individuals and society and spoke with experts on terrorism to provide further information to APA about public education efforts.

APA's Practice Directorate intends to use the information from the focus groups, as well as Pann's report, to augment public education campaign efforts and develop materials for the public on resiliency.

--J. DAW