How does APA decide on a response?

APA’s response to international disasters, based on procedures endorsed by the APA Board of Directors, focuses on providing information in the short term and developing partnerships and capacity building over the longer term. APA’s first level response includes providing rapid and relevant information on psychosocial approaches to disaster mental health and longer term recovery, making available international guidelines for first level response to disasters, working with international organizations to provide materials and expertise, when requested, and initiating contact with the local psychology institutions and organizations, when possible.

APA’s domestic Disaster Response Network may also provide services to local US communities with connections to the affected international area.

In addition to providing psychological expertise, APA may, on the approval of the Board of Directors, provide direct financial contributions to relief agencies. An ad hoc advisory group of experts in psychosocial intervention in international contexts, established by APA’s Committee on International Relations, provides input to the decision making process and helps APA develop information and resources for international disaster response.

How is APA responding?

Offering Web-based Psychological Resources

APA has posted informational materials on its policy for response to international disasters on its home page as a valuable resource for APA members and other non-member mental health professionals. This statement was develop based upon the IASC (Inter-agency Standing Committee) Guidelines for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings (PDF). In addition, APA posted information for the public – particularly to help those distressed because they have family and loved ones in affected areas.

Aiding Local Communities

After an international disaster, the APA Disaster Response Network becomes actively engaged in responding to the needs of people in the US with families or other loved ones in the affected area. A first level response is to distribute a variety of psychological resources in English and the local language when possible, and to distribute information on offering culturally sensitive and competent support. APA’s Disaster Response Networks work with Red Cross chapters and local government agencies to support local communities that are distressed about the well being or the loss of loved ones in affected areas, and to be available to US citizens who are repatriated back to the United States after an international disaster. The DRN Office has been regular communication and collaboration with the American Red Cross Disaster Mental Health team, agencies of the US Department of Health and Human Services, and other non-governmental organizations.

Fielding Media Inquiries

In addition, APA staff in both the Public and Member Communications and Practice Directorates work on media outreach and response to provide news reporters and producers with appropriate experts on the mental health issues raised by natural disasters. Psychologists are interviewed for national media outlets, and APA web resources for the public are referenced in online sources such as Huffington Post and the Guardian from the United Kingdom. APA also typically distributes a press release describing our available information products on trauma response and recovery, international guidelines and resources, and resources for longer term recovery.

Will APA organize relief teams?

APA will not organize relief teams, given that APA is not a disaster response organization. When psychologists in the APA Disaster Response Network respond to disaster, they do so in partnership with the American Red Cross, which has a Congressional charter to engage in relief work. Generally, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the local  Red Cross and the American Red Cross International Office work in coordination to provide non-governmental response to the earthquake. These organizations make a decision about recruiting disaster mental health volunteers.

Those psychologists who are interested in responding in international settings should review APA’s statement on the role of psychologists in international emergency settings.

What can an APA member do?

Shorter Term Activities

Make a donation
First responses to natural disasters provide food, water, clothing, shelter and emergency care. Next level responses begin to focus on recovery processes. APA members may wish to make donations for general relief to the American Red Cross or other relief orgaizations that will enable them to direct resources where they are needed most. It is important to remember that the need for aid will continue for some time, and that there are organizations that provide psychosocial relief and long-term intervention.

Psychologists may wish to make a donation to the American Psychological Foundation to support grants for research on disaster response (APF's Visionary and Weiss grants). Psychologists may also wish to donate to organizations that provide support for psychosocial relief and long-term intervention such as the World Federation for Mental Health (APA is a member organization) or other organizations that focus on psychosocial recovery.

Offer to provide Information, Consultation, or Training
Psychologists with experience in disaster mental health and/or public health can offer to consult with recognized humanitarian organizations and/or offer to provide training to international colleagues. We recommend working through established organizations, such as the national psychological association or regional multilateral organizations and non-governmental organizations (for example, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies). Should an appeal for help from psychologists come through these organizations, it is much more likely to have been coordinated with the necessary agencies and incorporated into the relief infrastructure. Consultation or training can help local community and mental health leaders to develop interventions and supports for their citizenship that can then be sustained long after relief agencies have departed.

Longer Term Activities

Apply to join APA’s International Database of Subject Matter Experts
APA’s International Office maintains a database of psychologists with substantive and geographical expertise. It uses this database to call on experts, including for consultation when disasters and other international incidents occur.

Send Resources for the APA Trans-World Disaster Resource Clearinghouse
APA is developing a clearinghouse of disaster-related psychological resources and information about disaster response initiatives.

Develop collaborative research relationships with psychologists in the affected region
Collaborative research relationships may assist local mental health professionals in studying the psychological aspects of these events, laying groundwork for an even more effective response in future events. Effective assessment of psychological needs and resources and evaluation of interventions are areas of particular importance.

Prepare for the future
We urge psychologists wanting to help in emergency situations to prepare now by getting training in disaster mental health. The long-term requirements for people skilled in consultation and training in disaster-affected areas are likely to continue for years to come. In addition, psychologists interested in disaster mental health work are encouraged to consider joining the APA Disaster Response Network and becoming prepared to offer assistance in response to the thousands of local disasters that occur annually in the United States.

APA’s Longer-term Responses to International Disasters

After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, APA began to develop longer range activities in support of disaster response and of strengthening the capacity for psychosocial response internationally. Examples of these activities include:

Funding for training in psychosocial intervention in developing countries
After the tsunami APA supported training projects in tsunami-affected countries for train-the-trainer models for local psychosocial intervention. Since then APA has available modest funding to offer matching, seed funds to psychology organizations in developing countries to develop and implement training seminars. For more information contact the office by e-mail.

Funding through the American Psychological Foundation (APF)
APF has awarded grants to psychologists whose research and interventions address the long-term effects following a disaster and that will help lay the groundwork for a more effective understanding and ability to respond to future traumas. Examples include a pilot intervention program that incorporates group counseling and rapid education for youth in Sierra Leone, to strengthen community supports and peer networks; a project examining the effects of the timing of interventions with emergency response personnel; research on the effects of a natural disaster on children’s anxiety, and research on the long-term recovery of a community after a disaster so that psychological scientists, decision makers, and practitioners will be able to know and address the issues that emerge over time. Visit the American Psychological Foundation for more information.