Disaster Psychology

Weeks ago, Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and East Texas. Today, Hurricane Irma marches up the Florida coast after wreaking havoc in the Caribbean.  When the storm passes, media attention will soon shift to recovery efforts.  First responders will undertake search and rescue operations.  More slowly, infrastructure—including housing, transportation needs, and communications—will be rebuilt.  But for many people, recovery requires more than just material needs.  Rebuilding is not possible without attending to the psychosocial needs of disaster-affected individuals, families, and communities.

Hurricane Irma; NASA

Disasters have an enormous impact on mental health and psychosocial well-being. Velasquez et al, writing in the APA Handbook of Community Psychology, explain how the alteration of life plans, weakening of social networks, loss of social support, and fragmentation of relationships between individuals and larger institutions combine with the fear and anxiety produced by the disaster itself to cause significant strain on mental health.  The toll can be especially heavy for those already living in poverty.  Patricia Watson and Jessica Hamblen, in the APA Handbook of Trauma Psychology, emphasize that disasters and disaster recovery cannot be understood in isolation from preexisting living conditions such as absence of information, lack of adequate risk management, inequality, and weak institutions and social organization.  As a prominent NIH study showed, the impact and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused the incidence of serious mental illness to double, and nearly half of the subjects—all of whom were low-income parents of young children—exhibited symptoms of probable PTSD.

Although vulnerable people have a wide range of cognitive, emotional, and social capacities to cope with and recover from disaster, mental health remains a critically important but widely under-recognized aspect of disaster recovery. Fortunately, attention is increasing, thanks in part to the emergence of the field of disaster psychology.  According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, disaster psychology is a specialized domain of training, research, and service provision applied to individuals, communities, and nations exposed to a disaster. A key aim of practitioners in this area is to reduce initial distress, and foster short and long-term adaptive functioning following a disaster.  Public awareness is growing, too, thanks to the efforts of journalists, as well as organizations like Kaiser Permanente, which recently donated $500,000 to Mental Health America of Greater Houston, which helps provide mental health and emotional support to victims of Hurricane Harvey in east Texas.

Individuals can help as well. Mental health professionals can volunteer now with the Red Cross to help individuals in affected areas.  To donate to MHA of Greater Houston, click here.  Florida mental health organizations will be very active post-Irma; local MHA chapters and many other relief organizations will need resources in the weeks and months ahead, as the millions affected by these disasters begin the long road to recovery.

 

REFERENCES

Vandenbos, G. R. (Ed.). (2015). APA dictionary of psychology (2nd ed.).  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Velasquez, T., Rivera-Holguin, M., and Morote, R. In M.A. Bond, I. Serrano-Garcia, & C.B. Keys (Eds-in-Chief), Shinn, M. (Assoc. Ed.). (2017). APA handbook of community psychology (Vol. 2). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Watson, P. & Hamblen, J. (2017). Assisting individuals and communities after natural disasters and community traumas. In S.N. Gold (Ed.-in-Chief). (2017). APA handbook of trauma psychology (Vol. 1).  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

 

 

May Releases from APA Books!

Toward a More Perfect Psychology 

Improving Trust, Accuracy, and Transparency in Research

Edited by Matthew C. Makel, PhD, and Jonathan A. Plucker, PhD

At its foundational level, the heart of science is that its methods allow for others to believe its results. This foundation is served by trust, accuracy, and transparency. Toward a More Perfect Psychology presents strategies to help strengthen the field by improving research quality. This includes strategies for not just maximizing the quality and impact of one’s own work, but also evaluating and responding to the research of others. Toward a More Perfect Psychology is a vital step in making psychology a stronger, more rigorous science.

 

How and Why Are Some Therapists Better Than Others?

Understanding Therapist Effects

Edited by Louis G. Castonguay and Clara E. Hill

Some therapists are more effective than others, that much is clear; why they are more effective is less clear. To answer this question, Louis Castonguay and Clara Hill compiled this comprehensive guide that brings together expert scholars and clinicians from a variety of theoretical backgrounds. They explore the empirical foundations of therapist effects as a broad concept and propose practical strategies to help mental health practitioners become more effective. Chapters also closely examine specific therapist characteristics, skills, and attitudes that are relevant to all clinical contexts, including therapeutic presence, technical interventions, cultural competence, reactions to negative emotions, and humor.

 

Practical Ethics for Psychologists 

A Positive Approach

THIRD EDITION

Samuel J. Knapp, Leon D. VandeCreek, and Randy Fingerhut

Guided by the American Psychological Association’s “Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct,” this book illustrates how psychologists can actualize their ethical acumen in their daily work. The authors discuss a variety of ethically tricky areas for psychologists, including patient confidentiality and inappropriate relationships, and provide risk-reduction strategies as well as a five-step decision-making model for difficult ethical quandaries. This third edition of Practical Ethics for Psychologists includes new findings on the science of morality and on working with morally diverse clients, and ethical issues regarding the use of social media and other online communications.

 

Treating Infants and Young Children Impacted by Trauma 

Interventions That Promote Healthy Development

Joy D. Osofsky, Phillip T. Stepka, and Lucy S. King

Infants and young children exposed to trauma can suffer with developmental, emotional, behavioral, and social problems across the lifespan. Continuing research dispels the myth that children simply “grow out of it,” by demonstrating how trauma impacts neurobiological development and emphasizing the need for early intervention. The authors of this book distill the literature in this concise volume that explores the effects of trauma on infants and young children along with the treatments that are best suited for addressing these effects.

April Releases from APA Books!

too young to be oldNew from APA LifeTools®!

Too Young to Be Old 

Love, Learn, Work, and Play as You Age

Nancy K. Schlossberg, EdD

As the “Baby Boomer” generation reaches retirement age, an unprecedented number of Americans will soon be 55 or older. More so than ever before, the question on our minds is: How do I age well? In this accessible and upbeat guide, Schlossberg builds on the concepts she pioneered in her popular books Retire Smart, Retire Happy and Revitalizing Retirement with an engaging take on positive aging. Looking at the basic issues of aging–health, finances, relationships, and how to live more creatively–readers will be able to think about and develop a deliberate plan to age happily.

 

trauma psych

APA Handbook of Trauma Psychology

Volume 1. Foundations in Knowledge

Volume 2. Trauma Practice

Editor-in-Chief Steven N. Gold

The APA Handbook of Trauma Psychology is an essential resource to specialists in trauma who need comprehensive information, to practitioners who seek to familiarize themselves with the range of approaches for trauma assessment and treatment, or for students as a graduate level or advanced undergraduate level textbook.

 

 

frailty suffering vice

Frailty, Suffering, and Vice

Flourishing in the Face of Human Limitations

Blaine J. Fowers, Frank C. Richardson, and Brent D. Slife

This work addresses the human condition in its entirety and discusses the pathways to flourishing in light of the everyday limitations that we all must face. How do we realize our best selves and flourish in the face of our frailty, vice, and suffering? The authors address what they call the “breathless optimism” of positive psychology in this unique and approachable volume filled with original research and case studies. This book explains how human dependency, limits, and suffering are not just negatives to be overcome. Rather they are part of our journey towards healing and development.

 

couples on the brink

Helping Couples on the Brink of Divorce

Discernment Counseling for Troubled Relationships

William J. Doherty and Steven M. Harris

Therapists and counselors can find themselves at an impasse when working with “mixed-agenda” couples—where one partner is considering divorce, while the other wants to preserve the marriage and start therapy. Such couples are a common and difficult challenge in clinical practice.

To help confirm each partner’s agenda before taking decisive steps toward either reconciliation or divorce, this book presents a five-session protocol for helping couples understand what has happened to their relationship and each person’s contributions to the problems. The goal is to gain clarity and confidence about a direction for their marriage.

 

mentalization-based children

Mentalization-Based Treatment for Children

A Time-Limited Approach

Nick Midgley, Karin Ensink, Karin Lindqvist, Norka Malberg, and Nicole Muller

Mentalization-based treatment (MBT) promotes clients’ ability to interpret the meaning of others’ behavior by considering their underlying mental states and intentions, as well as clients’ capacity to understand the impact of their own behaviors on others.  This book is the first comprehensive clinical introduction to using this approach with children, 5-12 years old, who suffer from emotional and behavioral problems including anxiety and depression.  Chapters examine problem assessment and case formulation, the therapist’s stance, and treatment termination. The guide also includes a chapter-length case illustration and an appendix that lists measures of reflective functioning in children and parents, as well as validation articles.

 

 

Casey Taft: On Non-Violence

This is the latest in a series of interviews with APA Books authors and editors. For this interview, Andrew Gifford, Development Editor at APA Books, interviewed Casey T. Taft of the National Center for PTSD, VA Boston Healthcare System, and Boston University School of Medicine.

Note: The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the authors and should not be taken to represent the official views or policies of the American Psychological Association.

Casey Taft

Casey T. Taft, Ph.D. is a staff psychologist at the National Center for PTSD in the VA Boston Healthcare System, and Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Taft was the 2006 Young Professional Award winner from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and the 2009 Linda Saltzman Memorial Intimate Partner Violence Researcher Award winner. He has served or is currently serving as Principal Investigator on funded grants focusing on understanding and preventing intimate partner violence through the National Institute of Mental Health, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Defense, and the Blue Shield of California Foundation. Dr. Taft has published over 100 empirical papers and book chapters, chaired an American Psychological Association task force on trauma in the military, and consulted with the United Nations on preventing violence and abuse globally.

In addition to the book discussed in this interview, Dr. Taft is also the guest host of Intimate Partner Violence, a Psychotherapy Training Video available on DVD.

In your work with veterans suffering from PTSD, you managed to create something unique, as far as I know:  a model for treating interpersonal violence (IPV) that addresses both perpetrators and victims. How did you come up with this idea?  Could you tell us about the development of this model?  

Our model is trauma-informed in that we account for and discuss the role of trauma throughout the entire assessment and therapy process. What we’ve found is that when we give space for the perpetrator to discuss prior traumatic events, not only does this help set the stage for developing a positive therapeutic alliance and enhance motivation, but it can be healing in and of itself. While our program is not a trauma treatment per se, we do have some evidence that those who receive the program are themselves healing from trauma while they’re also much less likely to inflict trauma upon others. The goal of our program is to stop the cycle of trauma, and we do that be increasing an understanding of trauma and its impacts, and really focusing on how our prior experiences influence how we interpret various situations and our relationship partners.

You’ve noted that many models of IPV treatment do not take trauma into consideration at all. What inspired you to change that, with your model?

 Trauma-informed intervention is increasingly the standard of care for all kinds of problems that might lead someone to treatment, and it stands to reason that we should be doing the same with those who use violence in their relationships. In fact, trauma-informed intervention may be even more important with this population since more than half of those who engage in partner abuse have been abused themselves growing up or observed their parents abusing each other. While almost everyone in the partner violence field acknowledges high rates of trauma in this population, and there seems to be a growing belief that we should be educated about trauma, this hasn’t necessarily translated into specific evidence-based trauma-informed approaches. Especially when we consider that interventions to prevent and end intimate partner violence have not been particularly effective, and other research showing that trauma and PTSD are associated with violence through their influence on how we interpret our social worlds, this seemed like an obvious direction to go.

In your new book Trauma-Informed Treatment and Prevention of Intimate Partner Violence, you and co-authors Christopher M. Murphy and Suzannah K. Creech discuss the importance of a positive therapeutic process. Could you elaborate on what you mean by that phrase? What are some ways that practitioners can adopt a positive approach?

By positive therapeutic process, we’re referring to facilitating positive therapist-client relationships, motivation for ending the abuse, and engagement in the treatment process in general. Historically in partner violence intervention, there has been a tendency to downplay the importance of these factors, with intervention strategies that may be

considered overly confrontational and shaming. This is unfortunate because when we’re working with a trauma-exposed population, they may have difficulty trusting and joining with providers. Therefore, taking a more alliance-enhancing and motivational approach may go a long way towards enhancing our ability to reach violent individuals and help them end their violence. In fact, my dissertation research from long ago showed that when we are able to build a positive working alliance and facilitate group cohesion, those who are in partner violence intervention are less violent and abusive to their partners after program completion.

The programs you’ve developed to end domestic violence in military service members have seen terrific successes and have been adopted by many hospitals and clinics. How do you feel, seeing your work take root in so many places?

It feels amazing, to be honest. So many people have worked really hard to get us to this point. We spent over eight years running randomized controlled trials where we developed our violence prevention programs and evaluated them. Ours are the first programs shown to be effective for this population through controlled trials so we truly believe we are onto something important with this work. To be able to then help with implementing these programs across the VA healthcare system and within the military is exactly what we were hoping for when we began this endeavor. Our vision for the next phase of our clinical research program is to do the same thing with a civilian population. We have every reason to believe that a trauma-informed violence prevention intervention would similarly work for a civilian population.

As a vegan, you’ve written about how you want to promote non-violence towards animals, and echo a similar message of positivity when it comes to our treatment of all living creatures. Do you see violence as a systemic problem in our society?  Are there things we can do in our own lives to help prevent violence, whether on an interpersonal level or more broadly?

We know that when children are violent to animals, it’s a warning sign for problems with interpersonal violence down the road. Similarly, when we sanction unnecessary violence towards other sentient beings in any form, it promotes the view that violence is acceptable. I do see violence as a systemic problem in our society. Violence in many forms towards both human and nonhuman animals is all around us, and I believe that a pro-intersectional framework is required to understand that various forms of violence and injustice are all inter-connected, and all violence stems from the idea that some lives matter less than others, or that some are lesser. It’s quite amazing that all three of the authors for this book are vegan and share this pro-intersectional worldview.