Laura Barbanel and Robert Sternberg
Responding to disaster is not new for psychologists. The field of trauma psychology has existed for some time. But the extent of this response and the participation of psychologists in the recovery efforts in a variety of settings have not been widely visible. Psychologists have responded to the needs of victims of massacres, have set up programs in West Africa for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), have worked in the wake of the war in the former Yugoslavia, and have worked in Chernobyl after its nuclear disaster. The responses of psychologists have been seen, however, as ad hoc and the work generally has not been viewed in a theoretical framework.
In the wake of September 11, the potential of psychologists to respond became a significant force in the recovery. When the tragedy hit, individual psychologists and other mental-health personnel became mobilized in a variety of ways. Disaster Relief Networks that had been in place for years (DRN) activated hundreds of their members to work at the site. Psychologists worked with schools to help them with children’s fears, with hospitals, and with other social service agencies. The American Psychological Association developed educational pieces for the public on its website. Public-service ads were developed and launched on radio and TV The work in this disaster began to be chronicled.
Although psychologists had been working in the midst of disasters for many years, the 9/11 disaster caught the attention of the public and of psychology in a way that had not been the case previously. The breadth of the disaster and its effects had not been studied in quite the same way as in the past. Affected individuals included relatives of victims, rescue workers, people who lived or worked in the area, and people who watched or experienced it in