David Earl Johnson, LICSW

3 minute read

There is some good news from the Virginia Tech tragedy. The community of mental health providers pieced together a model crisis response program of trained volunteers to support, identify and refer to professional help people suffering from the trauma. Psychiatric News

“To provide her local community with support after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, a mental health professional calls on a cadre of trained volunteers to address the mental health needs of those affected. Community Disaster Response Coalition President Dorinda Miller, Ph.D., disseminates information about disaster mental health services offered by her organization at a fair in Blacksburg, Va. When the first shots rang out on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg on April 16, one phone call to the New River Valley Community Disaster Response Coalition (CDRC) launched a carefully synchronized plan that would ultimately extend much-needed support to thousands of people whose lives were affected by the shootings. “People have a hard time believing that a disaster will ever affect them,” said Dorinda Miller, Ph.D., in an interview with Psychiatric News. Miller, along with several others, created the CDRC in 2002 with funds from the American Psychiatric Foundation. The goal was to meet the mental health needs of people affected by disaster in the New River Valley, an area that encompasses four mountainous counties and includes Blacksburg, Va., home of Virginia Tech. When the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history took place in the quiet college town, Miller, together with an entire community of trained volunteers, was ready to spring into action. Miller noted that the genesis of the New River Valley CDRC began with the 911 terrorist attacks. At the time, she was providing mental health relief services at the Pentagon with the Red Cross and said she realized that there was no way one agency could hope to meet the disaster mental health needs of an entire community and that she would need to form partnerships with other agencies in the New River Valley, where she ran A-Kee Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing the community with disaster-relief mental health services and education. Her goal was to develop a program that would provide consistent disaster mental health training to local mental health clinicians and community members and forge partnerships with local emergency and rescue teams. Miller worked with colleagues Amy Forsyth-Stephens,M.S.W., and Harvey Barker, Ph.D., the head of the New River Valley Community Services Center, a mental health agency, to develop a disaster mental health protocol. In doing so, she sought guidance from local county emergency coordinators and the emergency planner for Virginia Tech. She then began recruiting volunteers to train them to provide disaster mental health services by using a curriculum she developed. The daylong training, according to Miller, educates volunteers about crisis-intervention techniques, good-listening techniques, symptoms indicating an individual needs to be referred to a mental health clinician in the community, confidentiality of victims and family members, and ways to take care of themselves under stressful situations. Trainees also learn about how disasters affect certain populations, such as children, the elderly, and people with various types of disabilities. Training typically takes place three or four times a year and is free, according to Miller.”

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