Feature

Immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, the American Red Cross mobilized DRN members of the state psychological associations in New York, New Jersey and Virginia to help in the relief efforts.

In New York, psychologists who had American Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Services training were first sent to Manhattan; other psychologist volunteers were sent to local hospitals and schools to be available to talk with people who might need psychological services.

New York State Psychological Association (NYSPA) Executive Director Gayle O'Brian said responsibility for the immediate response was shouldered by psychologists already in the Manhattan area in the hours following the attacks, as other volunteers and DRN members could not get into the city, which was closed for security. The association was able to communicate only by e-mail until 5 a.m. on Sept. 12. NYSPA initially coordinated efforts with local hospitals, the New York Police Department and the Red Cross to provide volunteers. Within 10 to 12 hours of the attacks, the association had provided several hundred volunteers from around New York and the country.

Psychologists at ground zero staffed Red Cross centers and missing-persons hotlines. NYSPA President John Northman, PhD, said, "This disastrous occurrence is without precedent, leaving NYSPA to write the response script as best we can."

After coping with immediate trauma issues, NYSPA focused its resources on four key areas to cope with long-term effects:

  • Meeting requests from businesses for crisis assistance for their employees.

  • Working with the state education board to provide interventions and counseling in local schools.

  • Encouraging psychologists to sign up for Red Cross training to join the DRN and to participate in NYSPA's referral service.

  • Developing a functional plan to offer long-term grief counseling for the general public.

New Jersey Psychological Association (NJPA) members were mobilized to help the many people who had loved ones working in the World Trade Center and set up crisis-response posts at New Jersey ferry docks for people returning from Manhattan on the day of the attacks. They were also on hand to help all state residents cope with the fear and loss they were experiencing. "So many woke up, looked out their windows and saw the once breathtakingly beautiful skyline replaced with thick black smoke and the horror of death," said NJPA Executive Director Lorryn Wahler, the day after the attacks.

Psychologists also came out to help at local hospitals, schools, churches and temples and set up a referral service for pro bono mental health care. Some NJPA members also set up "open houses" in their homes and invited all members of their communities.

In Virginia, the Virginia Psychological Association (VPA) immediately asked psychologists to report to the Arlington chapter of the American Red Cross to help with the Pentagon relief efforts. (For more specifics about their work at the crash site, see Helping a Nation Heal: The Pentagon.)

Psychologists also went to schools and businesses near the crash site to offer support to those who might have had friends or relatives in the Pentagon or who were simply afraid to return to work or classes. "Our members in the Northern Virginia area have been out in force on-site as well as seeing patients...in their offices," said VPA Executive Director Joan Smallwood.

--R. BALLIE