Even as news of the tragedies in New York and at the Pentagon continued to break, state and provincial psychological associations helped to activate members of APA's Disaster Response Network (DRN) to provide much needed services and support. For thousands of Americans across the country, the attacks sparked feelings of grief and anxiety and raised questions about basic survival and how to help children cope with such horrific events. Psychologists' responses, from offering services to schools, families, businesses and churches to providing aid at the disaster sites, was "impressive," says Mike Sullivan, PhD, assistant executive director of state advocacy at APA.
Here are highlights of how several associations responded:
The California Psychological Association (CPA) mobilized DRN-member psychologists to staff an assistance center for airline employees and families of victims at Los Angeles Airport, the planned destination of the planes that hit the World Trade Center. CPA also promoted the availability of a colleague-assistance hotline for psychologists who may need to express their feelings after providing support to victims, families and frightened citizens.
The Florida Psychological Association immediately launched a public outreach effort through its 13 chapters to offer free grief counseling. In the days following, the association distributed information about how to cope with short-term emotional responses and then with long-term grief and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Georgia Psychological Association launched a coordinated effort with the local chapter of the National Mental Health Association to disseminate information to the public about helpful resources. The association also set up a hotline number that could be rotated among available psychologists, for the public to receive immediate trauma and grief counseling. Individual members were asked to personally contact churches and businesses to offer their services.
The Illinois Psychological Association referred people in need of psychological services to volunteer psychologists who provided counseling in their offices. In addition, the association's executive director moderated an Internet chatroom for children, sponsored by AOL/Time Warner.
The Kentucky Psychological Association sent volunteers to New York and created a packet of information for parents and other adults to help children cope with their feelings. The association also worked with local radio stations to set up phone banks for the public to locate psychologists in their area.
The Massachusetts Psychological Association's first response was to send DRN psychologists to Boston's Logan Airport to address the needs of families and company employees who lost relatives and friends on the United and American Airlines flights. Other psychologists went to local schools to talk with students and school staff.
The North Carolina Psychological Foundation coordinated efforts with the state's Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services and the state emergency response team to set up a crisis hotline, refer psychologists to local schools and businesses, respond to media requests and coordinate the volunteer efforts of social workers, psychiatrists and marriage and family therapists. State psychologists continue to work with the Red Cross to establish a strategy for helping the public cope with the long-term effects of trauma.
The Ohio Psychological Association worked closely with school boards across the state to ensure that each school would have a volunteer psychologist available to it. The association also set up a referral service to provide free counseling to those who lost loved ones.
For the Oklahoma Psychological Association, Sept. 11 was a flashback to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Many of the psychologists who treated victims in Oklahoma City were immediately sent to New York and the Pentagon. Others stayed in Oklahoma to staff hotlines and help groups and individuals. Psychologists reported being called upon to counsel many of the victims of the 1995 Murrah building bombing who suffered flashbacks.
The Ontario Psychological Association mobilized a team of psychologists to provide counseling for flight passengers who were diverted to the Toronto airport and for American trauma victims sent to Canada for hospital care.
The Pennsylvania Psychological Association worked closely with Pennsylvania's emergency response agencies and sent volunteer psychologists to rural and urban areas that requested services. DRN-member psychologists were sent to Shanksville to assist rescue workers and families of passengers on United Airlines flight 93, which crashed there. A team of psychologists also traveled to Bucks County to offer services to the families of the many workers who commute to New York.
The following week, the association held support sessions for a financial services support company that had been headquartered in the World Trade Center. The association continues to assist the Red Cross and to work closely with local and state agencies to organize education and support groups for the public and to create a strategic plan for responding to future disasters.
The Psychological Association of Puerto Rico worked with American Eagle to design a counseling program for pilots and sent a group of volunteers to New York.
The South Dakota Psychological Association offered workshops for legislators and their staffs on how to best serve the needs of the public during a crisis and distributed a list of resources staffers can send to constituents about coping with emotional responses and talking to children. A group of faculty who were also DRN members, along with graduate students from the Disaster Mental Health Institute of the University of South Dakota, was called by the Red Cross to come to New York City to assist in the relief efforts.
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