From the CEO

In late December, just before the New Year, I got a call at home from Dr. Ronald Levant, who was about to become president of APA in a few days. Both Dr. Levant and I, like millions of people around the world, were horrified by the news about the tsunami in the Indian Ocean and tens of thousands of lives lost. The estimates of the death toll kept rising every day to unthinkable numbers. Dr. Levant's call to me was prompted by one overriding question: What role could APA play in the relief and recovery efforts in the region devastated by the tsunami? We discussed many possibilities, and ultimately decided that the best approach would be for the APA executive staff to craft a set of recommendations for the APA Board of Directors to consider.

Crafting the recommendations

One of the first steps in crafting a set of recommendations was to take into account the views of our members. The tsunami tragedy deeply affected many APA members. In the days following the tragedy Dr. Levant and I received a large number of e-mails from members asking about what APA would do, but also offering creative suggestions about the role of psychologists in the relief effort. In addition, we talked to many concerned members, as well as psychologists who are experts in disaster relief. In a meeting of the APA Executive Management Group (EMG), the ideas from these groups were discussed, and many other possibilities were considered. We wanted to have recommendations that were feasible to implement relatively quickly and that met the immediate needs of the region. We also wanted to respond in ways that were unique to psychology and, in the short run at least, would make use of materials and resources already developed or available through APA that could be applied to the current crisis.

The APA response

On a conference call on Jan. 10, the APA Board of Directors approved the following course of action for APA's response to the tsunami disaster.

  • Donate $100,000 to the American Red Cross for its work in the affected region.

  • Remain in contact with the American Red Cross regarding the role APA's Disaster Response Network (DRN) can play and types of assistance psychologists can provide to survivors. The DRN boasts a searchable national database of more than 2,000 volunteer psychologists trained in disaster response to 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 within the United States who may have been affected by the tsunami, such as those with family members who may have died or are missing.

  • Coordinate APA relief activities with partner organizations that may have more expertise in handling international issues or working with the affected populations.

  • Assemble and disseminate information and resources on the current knowledge about trauma response. APA will make resources available electronically to local psychologists and psychology groups in the affected countries.

  • Educate people both in the United States 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 crisis and psychologists' expertise on trauma, coping and resilience after natural disasters. The information includes tips for adults and children on recovery from natural disasters, managing traumatic stress and building resilience.

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

The next phase

The actions above represent the first phase of the association's response to the tsunami. One of the things our members are most concerned about is the potential negative mental health effects of this event that could be long-lasting. Dr. Levant and I have received hundreds of e-mails on this topic. The question now is what role should APA play in facilitating the provision of mental health services and assistance in the region? The answer to the question is not straightforward, when one considers the large geographical areas affected, and the need to determine what services are needed and who should deliver those services, the appropriate training of service providers, and ensuring that any services are culturally congruent. The process for addressing these issues is well under way, and in a subsequent column I will inform you about the steps APA is taking in this regard.