Feature

In the wake of the tragic terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Tuesday, APA and its members have moved quickly to offer help.

While psychologists have volunteered their services to those at the disaster sites and across the nation in schools, places of worship and other community centers, APA staff have fielded numerous calls from news organizations--answering questions about mental health aspects of the tragedy and referring callers to experts. They have also released educational materials to psychologists, the media and the public to help people cope. And, as it always does in times of crisis, APA has activated the APA/American Red Cross Disaster Response Network (DRN) — a joint project with the American Red Cross.

When a disaster strikes, the DRN, a state psychological association-based network, mobilizes to get psychologists on the scene to assist victims, family members and rescue workers. Through the network, psychologists trained in disaster mental health are providing help in New York, New Jersey, Virginia and Pennsylvania and at airports in Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Other volunteer psychologists have pitched in as well.

The help efforts extend well beyond the disaster areas: Psychological associations in states such as Florida, Illinois and New Jersey are offering pro bono crisis counseling, while others are holding hold "open houses" near some of the disaster sites or help local chapters of the American Red Cross provide follow-up services.

Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, Arizona, and North Carolina, psychologists are staffing crisis lines at local television stations. Others are hosting chat rooms for children on Web sites such as AOL/Time Warner, and dozens more have spoken with local news outlets about strategies for coping with Tuesday's events.

Such swift action has been necessary to assist a bereaved nation said APA President G. Norine Johnson, PhD. "The trauma of this national tragedy will affect us all no matter where we live," said Johnson. "Psychologists throughout the United States are mobilizing on all fronts to help with the traumatic after-effects. We're using our scientific knowledge and our therapeutic expertise to help the nation through this time of trauma and terror."

To assist with this pubic education effort, APA has taken a number of specific steps:

  • Responding to Media Requests. APA's Public Communications Office received its first media call about the attack approximately one hour after the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Since that time the office has received dozens of calls, and APA members have been interviewed by NBC News, NPR, Time Magazine, the Washington Post, AP, The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and USA Today Radio.
  • Proactively contacting media. Tuesday afternoon the Practice Directorate distributed a press release on post-traumatic stress to media nationwide.
  • Providing support over the radio. APA President Johnson recorded an interview Wednesday morning in which she spoke about our national shock and grief and how people can best manage and help their children cope. APA packaged the interview into a radio news story and distributed it to radio stations nationwide.
  • Posting materials on the APA Web site. The APA Web site features a piece that outlines the types of emotions spurred by trauma and includes advice on how parents can talk to their children about the recent tragedy.

Offering public-education materials. The Practice Directorate has produced guidance materials to help members create in-school forums where children can discuss their feelings about the tragedy. This material can be accessed here on the APA Web Site.

Even as psychology embarks on these well-intentioned, and no doubt helpful, efforts, Johnson cautioned that the terrorist attacks may produce a level of national trauma unlike anything seen before. "We need to recognize that, although we know a great deal about trauma, this is trauma on a level never experienced in this country," said Johnson.

Nevertheless, she said, psychology and the nation will persevere. "The trauma may produce within us in a resolve not to let terror terrorize us," said Johnson, "and we may find within us a concrete sense of steel that we only before briefly glimpsed."

Members who want to help may contact their state psychological association or their local Red Cross chapter. There is also a pressing need for donations of money and, in some communities, blood.