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Learning From The Past and Planning For The Future


"To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child." - Cicero
Short Subjects

Rocky Mountain Region
Disaster Mental Health Institute

Mental Health Moment Online

CISM/CISD Annotated Links

Gulf War Syndrome




NIMH Meeting Announcements

Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN)
September 30 - October 4, 2003
Denver, Colorado


Rocky Mountain Region
Disaster Mental Health Institute

Dates & Locations:
Laramie, WY: November 12-15, 2003
Casper, WY: November 19-22, 2003
Contact: George W. Doherty
Box 786
Laramie, WY 82073

The Australasian
Critical Incident
Stress Association Conference

The Right Response in the
21st Century

Location: Carlton Crest Hotel
Melbourne Australia
Friday October 3, 2003 thru
Sunday October 5, 2003
For further information
please contact the conference organisers:
Conference Website: conference2003/

6th Annual Conference
The University of South Dakota
Disaster Mental Health Institute

"Innovations in Disaster Psychology:
Time for a New Paradigm?
Reflecting on the Past:
Looking to the Future"

Radisson Hotel
Rapid City, SD
September 18-20, 2003

8TH International Conference
on Family Violence

September 16 - 20, 2003
Location: San Diego, California, USA
Contact: "FV Conference 2003"
Attn: Lisa Conradi
Conference Co-Coordinator
6160 Cornerstone Court East
San Diego, CA 9212, USA
Phone: +1-858-623-2777 ext. 427

Middle East/North Africa Regional
Conference of Psychology

December 13 - 16, 2003
Location: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Contact: Dr. Raymond H. Hamden
MENA RCP, PO Box 11806
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Phone: +971-4- 331-4777
Fax: +971-4-331-4001

1st International Conference on
Psychophysiology of Panic Attacks
September 5 - 8 2003
Location: London, UNITED KINGDOM

European Society for Cognitive Psychology (ESCoP)
September 17 - 20, 2003
Location: Granada, SPAIN

Society for Judgment and
Decision Making Annual Meeting

November 10 - 11 2003
Location: Vancouver, CANADA

Society of Australasian
Social Psychologists 33rd Annual Meeting

April 15 - 18, 2004
Location: Auckland, NEW ZEALAND

27th National AACBT Conference
(Australian Association for
Cognitive and Behavior Therapy)

May 15 - 19, 2004
Location: Perth, Western Australia


KAMLOOPS, British Columbia

Almost half of 6,500 forest fire evacuees got the thumb's up to go home Friday, with remaining residents disheartened that they can't return to their towns and villages because it is not yet safe. "There are a large number of safety issues directly related to fire that we believe still makes the situation untenable," said Brian McMurdo, a spokesman for the British Columbia fire commissioner. "There is heavy smoke in the town. We are also dealing with propane tanks that have been impinged." The 3,000 residents who are being allowed to return home after fleeing the Strawberry Hill fire a week ago are from several small villages as well as rural areas northeast of Kamloops. Some of the remaining 3,500 evacuees from the most damaging wildfire in British Columbia this summer said they are disappointed they are going to be the last residents able to go home. Damage assessment to properties in the Kamloops-area fires is $8.2 million so far, which includes the destruction of 39 houses, 26 trailer homes, 99 sheds and barns, as well as house contents. The forest service said there were 640 fires burning as of Thursday night, 445 of them caused by lightning. More than 2,000 firefighters are battling the blazes. Matuga said 533 firefighters from Yukon, Northwest Territories, Ontario, New Brunswick and Alberta, as well as about 100 soldiers, were helping British Columbia fire crews.


WEST GLACIER, Montana - A backfire set by firefighters to contain a reinvigorated blaze in Glacier National Park seemed to be stemming the voracious appetite of the flames. Apgar Village, at the southern end of Lake McDonald about two miles north of West Glacier, was evacuated Monday, a week after it reopened. "We're trying to remind everybody that we're taking this a day at a time," park spokeswoman Amy Vanderbilt said Monday. The evacuation area is about 10 miles north of West Glacier, the park's gateway town that had been threatened by the fire for more than a week in late July and early August. High winds and hot temperatures have given added life to the wildfire, now estimated at more than 36,600 acres. Some campgrounds, a lodge and private houses were evacuated late Sunday as winds kicked the fire up again.

Elsewhere in Montana, a wildfire that began with a lightning strike Friday near Big Timber, about 70 miles west of Billings, had tripled in size to about 34,000 acres and forced the evacuation of some 50 homes. The blaze was threatening another 70 homes, after burning six outbuildings. More evacuations were in progress Monday night, said fire information officer Pat McKelvey. He said the fire crews faced extreme fire behavior Monday and were dealing with a forest as dry as it's ever been. The fire has "extreme growth potential," McKelvey said.

Another fire about 20 miles east of Eureka was estimated at 27,525 acres Monday. And a new wildfire in the Swan Valley grew to 4,000 acres by late Monday, forcing residents in 17 area homes to be ready to evacuate. After burning for 45 days, fire bosses expressed optimism that Washington state's largest wildfire could be fully contained by late Tuesday. The blaze has charred more than 81,000 acres, mostly in north-central Washington's Pasayten Wilderness. It was started by lightning June 29.

National Interagency Fire Center:


The top United Nations envoy in Iraq held out the prospect of breaking the regional isolation of the Iraqi Governing Council following his discussions with officials in Cairo last weekend, with a possible meeting next week between the United States-appointed body and the 22-member Arab League secretariat starting a rapprochement. For the full story, go to:


Meeting with top government officials in Fiji, a United Nations envoy has stressed the need to create a platform for small island states to participate in an up-coming global development meeting and underscored the need for using such an opportunity to focus on gaining concrete and feasible commitments. For the full story, go to:


Identifying panic attacks; diagnosing panic disorder. A mental disorder presenting as a medical complaint. Treatment recommendations for generalized anxiety disorder. WebMD Scientific American Medicine 2003 To read the full article, go to:


Realizing that they can maintain their pre-college relationships and still make new friends can help first-year female students overcome "friendsickness," a major stressor during their freshman year, according to a Penn State study. "Part of the adjustment process for first-year students involves grieving the loss of pre-college friendships as they have known," says Jennifer Crissman Ishler, assistant professor of counselor education. Crissman Ishler recently studied the phenomenon in 91 first-year, full-time female college students at a large research university. She found that while the preoccupation with holding on to pre-college relationships would often get in the way of students forming new relationships in college at first, after a month or two, the reluctance faded. Read the full story at


General Steps In The Helping Process

A basic principle in working with problems of children in disasters is that they are essentially normal children who have experienced great stress. Most of the problems which appear are likely, therefore, to be directly related to the disaster and transitory in nature.

The process recommended for helping children and families often starts with "crisis intervention", which can be provided by trained and supervised paraprofessionals and volunteers. The primary goal in crisis intervention is to identify, respond to, and relieve the stresses developed as a result of the crisis (disaster) and then to re-establish normal functioning as quickly as possible. Sometimes the reaction is mild. Other times it is severe. Also, the workers must be trained to recognize when the condition is mild and can be handled by the families (with guidance) and when it is severe and needs professional help.

The general steps in the helping process include:

1. Establishing Rapport

a. Letting the children know you are interested in them and want to help them.

b. Checking with the children to make sure that they understand what you are saying and that you understand them.

c. Having genuine respect and regard for the children and their families.

d. Communicating trust and promising only what you can do.

e. Communicating acceptance of the children and their families.

f. Communicating to the children and their families that you are an informed authority.

2. Identifying, Defining And Focusing On The Problem

Like adults, children going through a crisis may seem confused and chaotic in their thinking. It is helpful to the children and families to identify a specific problem and to define it and focus on it first. If possible, the problem should be quickly resolved so that the children and families quickly experience a sense of success and control. Evaluating the seriousness of the problem should determine the families' capacity for dealing with it.

3. Understanding Feelings

Empathy is the ability to see and feel as others do. Being empathetic with children requires patience, for children frequently are unable to express their fears and the adults need to appreciate the kind and intensity of the children's feelings. For example, adults may be required to listen to a child's account of a disaster many times while the child "works through" the disaster by talking it out.

4. Listening Carefully

Frequently, the children's experiences of adults listening to them are unsatisfactory. In working with children, effort should be made to respond to them and to comment frequently. Interrupting the children should be avoided for it tends to happen often and the children may be particularly sensitive to being interrupted by adults.

5. Communicating Clearly

It is important to communicate in language the children understand. The presence of the family is useful in interviews with the children for the families will be more familiar with them and their behavior. In addition, families will be able to learn how to communicate with the children better after observing the interviewer. Simple language should be used in speaking with the children so that they are not excluded from the helping process.


A basic principle in working with a child with an emotional problem is that it is a family problem, not just the child's problem, that is presented. The family should be considered the unit to be counseled. Every member should be involved with the process. In addition, one should take advantage of the assistance provided by the concern, interest, and availability of various members of the family. Sometimes adult memebers of the family may be experiencing emotional distress but hesitate to seek help. The family is frequently more able to seek help on the children's behalf than on that of its adult members. The family may, in fact, use the children's problems as a way of also asking for help for others in the family. This request should be respected not confronted. By having the family involved, others in the family can also be helped. Denial that problems exist may still occur, however, in some cultural and disadvantaged areas.

When the family's equilibrium is upset by stress, it may be pushed off balance temporarily, and the family shows signs of not being able to fulfill its usual functions. Time and informed interventions help in re-establishing the family and its developmental role.


Below are described some of the more common reactions of children in disasters and suggested possible responses:

1. Fears And Anxieties

Fear is a normal reaction to disaster, frequently expressed through continuing anxieties about recurrence of the disaster, injury, death, separation and loss. Because children's fears and anxieties after a disaster often seem strange and unconnected to anything specific in their lives, their relationship to the disaster may be difficult to determine. In dealing with children's fears and anxieties, it is generally best to accept them as being very real to the children. For example, children's fears of returning to the room or school they were in when the disaster struck should be accepted at face value. Treatment efforts should begin with talking about those experiences and reactions.

Before the family can help, however, the children's needs must be understood. This requires an understanding of the family's needs. Families have their own shared beliefs, values, fears and anxieties. Frequently, the children's malfunctioning is a mirror of something wrong in the family. Dissuading them of their fears will not prove effective if their families have the same fears and continue to reinforce them. A family interview should be conducted in which the interviewer can observe the relationship of the children and their families, conceptualize the dynamics of the child-family interactions, and involve the family in a self-help system.

The parents' or adults' reactions to the children make a great difference in their recovery. The intensity and duration of the children's symptoms decrease more rapidly when the families are able to indicate that they understand their feelings. When the children feel that their parents do not understand their fears, they feel ashamed, rejected, and unloved. Tolerance of temporary regressive behavior allows the children to re-develop anew those coping patterns which had been functioning before. Praise offered for positive behavior produces positive change. Routine rules need to be relaxed to allow time for regressive behaviors to run their course and the re-integration process to take place.

When the children show excessive clinging and unwillingness to let their parents out of their sight, they are actually expressing and handling their fears and anxieties of separation or loss most appropriately. They have detected the harmful effects of being separated from their parents and, in their clinging, are trying to prevent a possible recurrence. Generally, the children's fears dissolve when the threat of danger has dissipated and they feel secure once more under the parents' protection.

Children are most fearful when they do not understand what is happening around them. Every effort should be made to keep them accurately informed, thereby alleviating their anxieties. Adults, frequently failing to realize the capacity of children to absorb factual information, do not share what they know, and children receive only partial or erroneous information. Children are developing storehouses of all kinds of information and respond to scientific facts and figures, new language, technical terms, and predictions. Following the 1971 earthquake, the children in Los Angeles were observed to become instant experts. The language used by them in a daycare setting was enriched by technical terms, such as Richter Scale, aftershock, temblor, etc. The children learned these new words from the media and incorporated them readily, using them in play and in talking with each other.

The family should make an effort to remain together as much as possible, for a disaster is a time when the children need their significant adults around them. In addition, the model the adults present at this time can be growth enhancing. For example, when the parents act with strength and calmness, maintaining control at the same time they share feelings of being afraid, they serve the purpose of letting the children see that it is possible to act courageously even in times of stress and fear.

2. Sleep Disturbances

Sleep disturbances are among the most common problems for children following a disaster. Their behavior is likely to take the form of resistance to bedtime, wakefulness, unwillingness to sleep in their own rooms or beds, refusal to sleep by themselves, desire to be in a parent's bed or to sleep with a light, insistence that the parent stay in the room until they fall asleep, and excessively early rising. Such behaviors are disruptive to a child's well-being. They also increase stress for the parents, who may themselves be experiencing some adult counterpart of their child's disturbed sleep behavior. More persistent bedtime problems, such as night terrors, nightmares, continued awakening at night, and refusal to fall asleep may point to deep-seated fears and anxieties which may require professional intervention.

It is helpful to explore the family's sleep arrangements. The family may need to develop a familiar bedtime routine, such as reinstating a specific time for going to bed. They may find it helpful to plan calming, pre-bedtime activities to reduce chaos in the evening. Teenagers may need to have special consideration for bedtime privacy. Developing a quiet recreation in which the total family participates is also helpful.

Other bedtime problems of the children, such as refusing to go to their rooms or to sleep by themselves, frequent awakening at night, or nightmares can be met by greater understanding and flexibility on the part of the parents. The child may be allowed to sleep in the parents' bedroom on a mattress or in a crib, or may be moved into another child's room. A time limit on how long the change will continue should be agreed upon by both parents and child, and it should be adhered to firmly. Some children are satisfied if the parents spend a little extra time in the bedroom with them. If they come out of bad at night, they should be returned to it gently, with the reassurance of a nearby adult presence. Having a night light or leaving the door ajar are both helpful. Getting angry, punishing, spanking, or shouting at the child rarely helps and more frequently makes the situation worse. Sometimes, it becomes clear that it is actually the parent who is fearful of leaving the child alone.

Parents from middle-class families have been educated to believe that allowing their child to sleep in the parents' room has long-lasting deleterious effects on the child. Families accustomed to overcrowded and shared sleeping space have less trouble in allowing children to be close to them. Closeness between parents and children at bedtime reduces the children's and adults' fears.

Providing families with information on how to handle bedtime fears can best be done in the family setting or with groups of families meeting together. The families feel reassured upon learning that what they are experiencing is a normal, natural response, and that time and comfort are great healers. Learning that the sleep disturbance behavior is a problem shared with other families is reassuring.

3. School Avoidance And School Phobias

It is important for children and teenagers to attend school since, for the most part, the school is the center of life with peers. The school becomes the major source of activity, guidance, direction, and structure for the child. When a child avoids school, it may generally be assumed that a serious problem exists. One of the reasons for not going to school may be fear of leaving the family and being separated from loved ones. The fear may actually ba a reflection of the family's insecurity about the child's absence from the home. Some high achieving children may be afraid of failing and, once they have missed some time at school, may have concern about returning. The low performers may find that the chaos of disaster makes it even more difficult for them to concentrate. School authorities should be flexible in the ways they encourage children to attend school.

Programs designed for schools vary. Some projects involve teachers and school counselors, while others provide trained workers who have direct contact with the children and the teachers. In some instances, management within the school setting is advantageous. Troubled children can be identified by their behavior in both the classroom and on the playground. Some of the signs are fighting and crying in school for no apparent reason,increased motor activity, withdrawal, inattentiveness, marked drop in school performance, school phobia, rapid mood changes, incessant talking about the disaster, and marked sensitivity to weather changes. Puppetry and psychodrama conducted by a counselor or teacher in the classroom or in special groups are helpful in re-enacting the disaster. They may be followed by discussions and reports by the children of their own experiences in the event. Field trips to disaster sites may be arranged, and group meetings with students and parents may be held. Coloring books, word puzzles, connect-the-dot pictures, and arithmetic problems about the disaster build self-confidence. Class projects may be developed in which all the information about the disaster or a previous similar one is collected and made into a book with color drawings. Craft models or replications (such as dams, earthquake geology, volcanos, rivers, etc.) may be built. Puppets may be made and used to re-enact the disaster.

Children can be encouraged to construct their own games as a way of mastering the feelings associated with the disaster. For example, children play tornado games in which they set up the rules by themselves. In one game, each child is designated as an object, such as a tree, house, car, etc., and one child is the tornado making a noise like a siren and running. The other children begin to run and knock each other over. The "tornado" leaves, and all the children get up and return to their normal activities. Another example has children building a dam in a gutter or ditch and filling it with water. One child then breaks the dam and allows the water to escape harmlessly down the street or into the ditch.

School rap groups are also particularly helpful. Administrative information meetings, teachers' in-service meetings, and parent-teacher meetings can be used for public education. Newsletters and the school newspaper are useful in distributing information among the students. Chat rooms and web-sites on the internet can also be helpful.

Public involvement can be integrated through use of widespread associations, such as Camp Fire Girls, Cub Scouts, Brownies, 4-H, etc.



To search for books on disasters and disaster mental
health topics, leaders, leadership, organizations,
crisis intervention, leaders and crises, and related
topics and purchase them online, go to the following url:


Understanding September 11th:
Answering Questions About the Attacks on America

by Mitch Frank


From Publishers Weekly

Frank, a reporter for Time magazine, opens his informative narrative with a chilling account of his experiences on September 11, when he rushed from his Brooklyn Heights home to the scene of the disaster just after the first of the Twin Towers was hit. Using a question-and-answer format, the author then effectively distills for young readers information about the Middle East (especially Afghanistan), Islam, Islamism, the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. He also discusses terrorist groups' hatred of America and their campaigns against it. Readers may find here a useful framework for examining the possible motives for the terrorist attacks and the U.S. government's subsequent responses. Illustrations include photographs and maps; final artwork not seen by PW. Ages 12-up.

Additional Readings at: The Day That Was Different: September 11, 2001: When Terrorists Attacked America in the search engine. Also try looking here for Disaster Responses.


Contact your local Mental Health Center or
check the yellow pages for counselors, psychologists,
therapists, and other Mental health Professionals in
your area for further information.

George W. Doherty
Rocky Mountain Region
Disaster Mental Health Institute
Box 786
Laramie, WY 82073-0786


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Mental Health Moment Online