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Disaster and Trauma

Psychiatrists provide valuable medical experience and expertise for preparing and responding to disasters and mass traumas. It is important to understand how psychiatric care can be integrated into disaster response systems in order to effectively provide medical assessment, treatment and consultation. For information for patients and families, please visit Coping After Disaster.

Education and Training

Proper education and training is critical for responding to disasters and is crucial to ensuring successful interventions. Psychiatrists should become familiar with their local and regional disaster preparedness and response systems and coordinate with agencies and organizations appropriately.


A basic understanding of the various components of disaster response protects both the clinician responder and victims of disaster and mass traumas.

  • Preparation and System Issues: role differentiation and understanding the response system
  • Risk Communication: disseminating information and communicating care
  • Self-Care: developing a self-care plan, self-awareness, and managing stress
  • Needs Assessment: community evaluations and assessment guidelines
  • Legal and Ethical: confidentiality, licensure, and liability issues

Liability and Ethical Considerations in Emergencies and Disasters

  • Presenter: Moira Wertheimer, RN, JD, CPHRM, Assistant Vice President, Psychiatry Risk Management Group, AWAC Services Company, Inc.
  • Launch Course

Risk Management in Disaster Response

From the American Red Cross

Disaster Training: The American Red Cross provides disaster training for mental health professionals, including online training modules.


Assessment of a community takes into consideration the mental health of affected individuals and vulnerable populations.

  • Psychiatric Evaluation: relevant factors and psychological consequences of disaster
  • Special Populations: ethno-cultural issues and needs based on age, gender, and physical disability
  • Serious Mental Illness (SMI): the effects of disaster and post disaster issues on SMI
  • Substance Abuse: screening and assessment of substance abuse after disasters
  • Personality Issues: assessing and managing personality issues in disaster settings
  • Injuries and Triage of Medical Complaints: diagnosing the mind-body connection
  • Grief and Resilience: post disaster course of onset, biopsychosocial factors, and cultural issues

Climate Change and Disaster Mental Health

  • Presenters: Joshua Morganstein, M.D., Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Robin Cooper, M.D., University of California, San Francisco
  • Launch Course

Vicarious Trauma in Catastrophic Events: From the Perspective of Mental Health Providers at Various Phases of a Disaster

  • Presenter: Gertie Quitangon, M.D., New York University
  • Launch Course

From the National Center for PTSD

Assessment Measures: Information on tools and best practices for the proper assessment of trauma and PTSD through validated measures.


Evidence-based approaches and treatment strategies can differ among groups and incorporate aspects of psychosocial support and crisis management.

  • Psychological First Aid (PFA): understanding core elements and goals of PFA
  • Group and Family: peer-led support groups and professional-led therapeutic groups
  • Psychotherapies: short-term, long-term, alternative, and cultural-specific therapies
  • Psychopharmacology: goals and considerations in acute and postacute phase interventions
  • Child and Adolescent: pre-disaster, acute, and post-acute interventions including pediatric care
  • Geriatric: risk factors and intervention strategies

Practical Applications of Disaster Mental Health &emdash; Lessons Learned from the U.S. Military

  • Presenters: Jeffrey Millegan, M.D., M.P.H., Naval Center of Combat and Operational Stress Control, Joshua Morganstein, M.D., Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
  • Launch Course

From the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)

Psychological First Aid Online: This interactive course from the NCTSN, a national collaborative network of academic institutes and governmental and nongovernmental organizations, puts the participant in the role of a provider in a post-disaster scene.

Psychological First Aid Field Operations Guide (2nd Edition): This guide provides an evidence-informed approach for assisting children, adolescents, adults, and families in the aftermath of disaster and terrorism.

Volunteer Opportunities

American Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Teams: Psychiatrists licensed to practice in any U.S. state or territory may be eligible to participate as a Disaster Mental Health worker.

Vibrant Emotional Health: Organizes and trains volunteer psychiatrists to provide mental health services in the aftermath of disaster.

Community Emergency Response Teams: The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) organizes a program for educating and training community volunteers to support emergency responses.

International Humanitarian Opportunities: Psychiatrists seeking opportunities to participate in humanitarian efforts abroad can review available information and resources.

Related Publications

Care of Children Exposed to the Traumatic Effects of Disaster: Describes how to provide support and intervention to children in distress and how to mobilize family and social support.

Disaster Psychiatry: Readiness, Evaluation, and Treatment: Provides practical approaches to readiness, response, and intervention with a focus on evidence-based recommendations for psychiatric evaluations and interventions.

FOCUS: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Collection of practical and evidence-based materials to help psychiatrists develop and maintain a foundation of medical knowledge and clinical expertise in PTSD.

Principles and Techniques of Trauma-Centered Psychotherapy: Integrates cognitive-behavioral, psychodynamic, and humanistic methods of trauma treatment into a psychotherapeutic context stressing technique, rather than theory.

Mental Health: A Guide for Faith Leaders: This Guide helps show faith leaders how they can support individuals with a mental illness, and where to direct them for treatment.

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