Running Commentary

Much of this issue of the Monitor focuses on psychologists' response to the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath. Psychologists all over the country have made personal contributions to the relief effort, ranging from donations of blood to participation in the onsite work of the Red Cross.

As their work continues, there is a strong sense that this conflict, more than any other American war or police action, has powerful psychological components, from its origins to its consequences. The attacks appear to have grown out of bitterness and hatred so deep that intelligent, educated men were willing to die in order to inflict pain and death on American citizens and on our country. In addition to the most apparent consequences of the attacks--death, injuries and enormous property damage--the psychological effects have affected virtually every American and many others throughout the world.

An outpouring of international support

Looking back over these past weeks, one of the most heartening byproducts of the Sept. 11 tragedies has been the response from our colleagues around the world. We have received notes from individual psychologists in Belarus, Brazil, Bulgaria, France, Ghana, Greece, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, Venezuela, Yemen and Yugoslavia. We've heard from national psychological organizations in Austria, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Yemen. The European Federation of Psychologists' Associations, the Interamerican Society of Psychology, the International Association of Applied Psychology and the International Union of Psychological Science have also offered support and condolences.

One point that resonated in these communications is the sense that the terrorists attacked not only the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, but also the world at large. Miriam Erez from Israel wrote, "This devastating terrorist attack affected us here in Israel, as if we were there with you." From Ghana, Nana Opoku Owusu-Banahene wrote, "When I heard the news...I was shocked, in a state of anxiety and disbelief. It took me some time to actually come to terms with the realities...as I sat glued to my television set watching helplessly as the great building collapsed with hundreds of lives ensnared within and hundreds of others dead on the hijacked planes." And from Spain, José María Prieto wrote, "Here in Madrid the bells of horror and silence toll for those who were massacred." These messages reinforce my personal opinion that we are all connected and a crisis for one is a crisis for all.

Within hours of the attacks, we received offers of support and assistance to those in need in New York and Virginia. The first to step forward were our closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico. At 5:56 p.m. on Sept. 11, APA President Norine G. Johnson and I received a note from Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) President Bill Melnyk stating that "several provincial and local groups of psychologists are volunteering to help out with the passengers in the planes grounded in Canada....We will do what we can." CPA Executive Director John Service followed up the next morning with an impressive summary of steps the CPA had taken to coordinate a volunteer program and media campaign. Just after midnight on Sept. 12, Mexican Psychological Society President Laura Hernandez-Guzman advised us that "we have been training counselors and therapists specializing in PTSD for the past few years. If you need Spanish-speaking counselors/therapists, please be sure to note you can count on us." Similar offers came from the Austrian Psychological Association, the British Psychological Society, the Hong Kong Psychological Society and from Yemen Psychological Association President Hassan Kassim Khan, writing "Please do not hesitate to ask us for any help, if needed."

Our expanding role

You will read elsewhere in this issue about psychologists' work to help allay the immediate effects of the crisis. But the challenge for psychologists all over the world is to contribute to the understanding of what has happened and to the preventive measures that will make our world a safer place. National and international e-mail networks and at least one group of distinguished psychologists are busily engaged in planning research initiatives. Special issues of journals and scientific meetings will explore the psychological underpinnings of terrorism. For instance, APA's Committee on International Relations in Psychology has advised me that they are planning a series of activities exploring the long-term societal impact of violence on children. APA's Board of Directors has established a Subcommittee on Psychology's Response to Terrorism.

For U.S. citizens the Sept. 11 events have had a profound psychological effect, since most of us have enjoyed an environment of almost unprecedented freedom from danger at home. We have much to learn from our international colleagues in countries that have withstood wars and devastation with dignity and perseverance in the face of all adversity.