Disaster Mental Health Training
Mental Health Professionals play an essential role in disaster response and recovery. Disaster Mental Health Counseling usually involves short-term, community-based, on-site interventions aimed at meeting the immediate psychological needs of people affected by disasters during and immediately following disaster events.
Although disaster events differ widely, they invariably involve sudden tragedy and loss in people’s lives. We accompany them as they struggle to navigate the suffering and uncertainty they face. Our primary mission is to provide support, referral, assessment of strengths and limitations, crisis intervention, advocacy, and help to foster coping and resilience.
There is no universally accepted training model or credentialing for Disaster Mental Health professionals. Usually, the minimal requirements are a professional license and a willingness to help (frequently on a pro bono basis). Nevertheless, your willingness to make Disaster Mental Health a part of your professional identity should involve specific training and registration with agencies responsible for disaster response. This will help to facilitate rapid deployment and decrease the chaos often associated with deployment.
Disaster Mental Health Training varies. There are on-line modules like those offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):
In addition, there are certificate programs and doctoral degrees such as those offered by the University of South Dakota Disaster Mental Health Institute.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers an excellent training manual for mental health professionals.
Other ways to better prepare yourself include volunteering with the American Red Cross by contacting your local ARC chapter or by contacting your state professional organization:
Additional Training Resources for Mental Health Professionals:
- Field Manual for Mental Health and Human Service Workers in Major Disasters. This field manual is intended for mental health workers and other human service providers who assist survivors following a disaster. This pocket reference provides the basics of disaster mental health, with numerous specific and practical suggestions for workers.
- Developing Cultural Competence in Disaster Mental Health Programs.
Highlights important common issues relating to cultural competence and to disaster mental health. Disaster mental health providers and workers can use and adapt the guidelines set forth in this document to meet the unique characteristics of individuals and communities affected directly or indirectly by a full range of natural and human-made disasters.
- Crisis Counseling Programs for the Rural Community. The goal of this publication is to improve crisis counseling services for rural populations following disaster. Determining the factors that account for the uniqueness of rural populations and communities and how those factors affect the implementation of disaster crisis counseling services are the central issues of this publication.
- Working with Children:
- Fostering resilience:
- International Trauma Studies Program. The International Trauma Studies Program is committed to enhancing the natural resilience and coping capacities in individuals, families, and communities that have endured and/or are threatened by traumatic events -- domestic and political violence, war and natural disaster. ITSP pursues its mission through providing professional training, conducting innovative research, offering technical assistance to international organizations, and helping build a global learning community in mental health and human rights.
- Training Manual for Mental Health and Human Service Workers in Major Disasters. This training manual explains how survivors respond to, and recover from, disasters and highlights the importance of tailoring disaster response to individual communities and populations. Intended for use by instructors, it describes effective interventions for responding to disasters and strategies for stress prevention and management among mental health and human service workers.
- Disaster Mental Health Institute Academic Program (University of South Dakota)
- Trauma Response Guide. This manual was originally written for people working in the field with women survivors of rape in Bosnia, but it can be used more broadly as a guide for helping anyone of either gender who has survived any kind of trauma. Since it is written from afar and based on experiences similar to but not the same as the ones you are dealing with, please use what is useful or helpful and ignore what is irrelevant or wrong for your circumstances, trusting more in your judgment and intuition than in anything contained herein.
- Resilience a comprehensive website discussing resiliency, its importance, and ways to foster resiliency in your own life.