Mental Health

Making Disaster Preparedness Part of Your Professional Identity

Licensed social workers, psychiatrists, counselors, psychologists, and other mental health professionals have numerous responsibilities and areas of potential professional emphasis. Including disaster preparedness as one of these areas of emphasis can help you respond to disasters in a helpful and professional way. Here are some suggestions, based on helpful principles of preparedness and planning, for enhancing your preparedness for disasters.

  • In addition to affiliating with the disaster preparedness and intervention components of your professional organization, you may consider becoming part of a disaster-specific group such as these for psychologists, licensed professional counselors, psychiatrists, and licensed social workers.
  • Allocate some of your continuing education to development of core competencies for disaster practice. Doing an internet search on disaster-specific continuing education courses will reveal numerous options in this category.
  • Educate yourself about various disasters, mental health care responses, and the mental health implications of each, through review of websites such as this one.
  • Volunteer, consulting Georgia disaster information clearinghouses such as Georgia911 to identify immediate and long-term needs. Personal stories of mental health care volunteers suggest that such volunteering can provide important personal and professional benefits.

Making disaster preparedness part of your professional identity can have significant benefits not only for you but for those you serve.

Web Links

This is an accredited online training module created by the University of Washington and the Center for Disease Control. It covers how a community responds to disasters and the short-term needs and long-term impacts of disasters.

The Disaster Psychiatry Outreach is a non-profit organization of volunteer psychiatrists committed to disaster mental health services. They provide training courses, organize volunteers, and conduct extensive research in disaster mental health. This website has a variety of resources and literature.

This is an article on the psychological implications and lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina. On the page are links to articles written by social workers on grief, stress, and the impact on children.

The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS), with headquarters in Northbrook Illinois, is a professional association focused on research and practice in the area of traumatic-stress. Membership and other information is available via the ISTSS web site. The Society sponsors an annual convention each November, as well as an international conference. ISTSS also sponsors a variety of publications: the quarterly printed Journal of Traumatic Stress, with peer-reviewed articles on biopsychosocial aspects of trauma, as well as a newsletter -- Traumatic StressPoints. [Note: Usually, the Conference on Innovations in Trauma Research Methods immediately follows the ISTSS convention, in the same city.

The International Society for the Study of Dissociation (ISSD) is a nonprofit professional society that "promotes research and training in the identification and treatment of dissociative disorders, provides professional and public education about dissociative states, and serves as a catalyst for international communication and cooperation among clinicians and researchers working in this field." ISSD often holds their annual convention nearby and shortly before that of ISTSS. Information about their annual convention (frequently held close to the ISTSS meeting), is available at their site, as well as psychotherapy training for clinical work with dissociative disorders. ISSD also sponsors the Journal of Trauma and Dissociation (saved as ISSD journal).

Another annual conference important in the field of Psychological Trauma, the Boston Trauma Conference, is co-sponsored by Dr Bessel van der Kolk's Trauma Center and the University of Boston Medical School.

The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress (AAETS), in New York, is a multidisciplinary network of professionals committed to the advancement of intervention for survivors of trauma. With a diverse professional membership in the United States and over 24 other countries (representing over 140 specialties in the health-related fields, emergency services, criminal justice, forensics, law and education), the Academy seeks to increase awareness of the effects of trauma and ultimately to improve treatment for survivors. To this end, members may obtain Board Certification, Diplomate and Fellow Credentials, and listing in the National Registry of The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress.

The Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists (ATSS), founded in 1989, has a web site and offers three distinct certifications to individuals providing support, education, intervention, and treatment in the field of traumatic stress. These are Certified Trauma Specialist (CTS), Certified Trauma Responder (CTR), and Associate in Trauma Support (ATS). ATSS also offers continuing education trainings that are relevant for traumatic stress responders.

A training and certification program is available at Florida State University for Certified Traumatologists, under the direction of Charles Figley, PhD. The Traumatology Institute at FSU offers classes for those who assist trauma victims, and awards CEU's for licensed mental health professionals. Membership in the Traumatology Institute is available, by application, to qualified professionals experienced in reducing the distress and emotional trauma of others.