The new mother held her four-day-old daughter. The mother's eyes were misted: "I keep thinking about anthrax."
On Sept. 11, life in the United States changed and will never be the same. The terrorist attacks brought war and trauma to our shores in a way we've never before experienced. This attack was on civilians. This was a psychological war of terror. A psychological war that has left most Americans with a range of emotions, a jumble of thoughts and an uncertainty about the future.
This national tragedy affects us no matter where we live. With the added threat of biochemical warfare, even the cornfields in Iowa may hold danger. As we grapple to understand this hatred, commentators struggle to provide us with conceptual frameworks. For many, it is Osama bin Laden who is seen as evil personified; for others, this horror is the ultimate in insanity; for still others, this is incomprehensible religious fanaticism.
As psychologists, we have much to contribute to the theory building and to the design of implementation tools to survive this terrible time and rebuild a healthy world. We have expertise in scientific methods to expand knowledge of and approaches to diminish ethnopolitical warfare and terrorism. We have expertise in understanding culture, conflict resolution and capacity building. We have expertise in responding to the psychological effects of terror and trauma. We have expertise in listening skills, in helping people cry and mourn and work through their anger. And we have expertise in fostering resilience.
APA's governance response
With airline travel still difficult immediately after the attacks, APA decided to hold its September consolidated meetings of boards and committees in a conference-call format. Each committee did double-duty by focusing on its planned agenda and by considering how its own expertise might be used to respond to a changing national agenda. The committee chairs responded with true leadership to conducting business by way of conference calls and online chats.
This column is going to press before the consolidated meetings in late October, but I have no doubt that the boards and committees there will also look at the changing psychology agenda in the wake of the terrorist attacks and war. I will also have the privilege of giving Presidential Citations to recognize psychologists' efforts in New York, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. These citations are symbolic of the large outpouring of responsiveness of psychologists nationwide.
Meanwhile, APA's Council of Representatives will be involved fully in the changing agenda of APA and APA's response to terrorism, trauma, war and the shifting economic situation. This involvement will start with a conference call between the Council caucus chairs and myself. This year's caucus chairs are a committed, highly informed and involved group of psychologists representing the diverse constituencies on Council. Each member can be involved in APA's efforts. Let your Council representative know of your interest and your expertise.
APA's Board of Directors' response. APA's Board has established a Subcommittee on Psychology's Response to Terrorism, chaired by Ron Levant, with Laura Barbanel and Nate Perry as members. All of APA's directorates are involved in the effort with coordination being provided by Kurt Salzinger, executive director of the Science Directorate. Divisions and state associations, as well as individuals, are encouraged to join the effort by contributing suggestions, expertise and/or resources. In addition, the subcommittee will coordinate with psychologists and other contacts in key U.S. government agencies.
Veteran Administration psychologists. I want also to recognize the Veteran Administration psychologists who have been leaders in psychology service and training for more than 50 years. Much of clinical psychology today came from the expansion of monies and resources available to psychology following World War II. The contributions of this distinguished group of colleagues on the effects of war, injury and trauma are the bedrock of our knowledge in these areas.
International psychology. Over the past two years, I have had met many from the international community of psychologists. As Ray Fowler notes in his column on page 11, APA heard from scores of our international colleagues and from national psychological societies. We received offers of condolences and offers to help. It was as if the globe shrank and we were all holding each other close. Nancy Russo, chair of APA's Committee on International Relations in Psychology, spoke to me about that committee's response to the war and terror. In coordination with the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues they are looking to expand APA's efforts and to engage the international community. By focusing on one or two themes, translations of the research through a cultural lens may facilitate the development of appropriate interventions.
As we move forward from Sept. 11, psychologists will continue to respond with the full measure of our intelligence, our knowledge, our skills, our resources, our strengths and our goodness.