The role of psychology in emergencies and disasters

In our time, the effects of climate change and the high levels of pollution that industrial powers are emitting into the earth’s atmosphere are causing negative consequences for the entire world population, Such as strong waves, earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

This natural instability, coupled with wars in many parts of the world, such as the recent bombings in the Gaza Strip, warns us of a state of emergency not only medical but also psychological, to many troubles that cannot be be treated only by mental health specialists.

Psychology in emergencies and disasters

The figure of the psychologist is one of the various professionals and specialists involved in disaster situations. His role or role as part of the team tasked with normalizing life in these scenarios is certainly critical, and it is for this reason that the presence of fit mental health professionals is essential to cope. to these phenomena. Through this article, we will define what is the psychology of emergencies and catastrophes, the fields of interaction, the techniques and the role of the psychologist.

This branch of psychology which studies the experiences and reactions of the person or groups of people before, during and after emergencies is booming due to the need to cover these borderline situations with trained professionals.

Definition of psychology in emergency and disaster situations

In the book Public health manualThe authors define the psychology of emergencies and catastrophes as follows:

“Emergency and disaster psychology is the branch of psychology that covers the study of the behavior and response of individuals, groups or human groups in the different phases of an emergency or disaster.” (Acevedo and Martínez, 2007).

Today, this sub-discipline has developed rapidly and this is becoming more and more necessary due to changes in all fields, at a time when natural disasters are frequent and armed conflicts are making headlines in many parts of the world. There is no part of the world that is not shaken by an event requiring urgent assistance.

All these circumstances have made it essential in many countries to include mental health professionals in response and rescue working groups, in order to respond to emergencies.

Psychology in emergency situations: areas of intervention

The psychologist who works in this field is linked to all kinds of professionals, such as technicians, doctors, social workers, sociologists, engineers, relief and aid organizations such as the Red Cross, the police. , the army, civil protection, etc. Likewise, this young branch of psychology is also closely related to other areas of the study of behavior and mental processes:

  • Clinical Psychology

  • Educational psychology

  • Health psychology

  • Psychophysiology

  • Organizational psychology

  • Social or community psychology

The contributions made by the two-way relationship with the other branches of psychology it enriches the work of the psychologist who works in emergency situations, combining knowledge from different fields to be able to offer an emergency assistance service adapted to the complexity that these situations imply.

Psychological intervention techniques in emergency and disaster situations

According to Acevedo and Martinez (2007), the techniques are as follows:

  • Psychological first aid

  • Intervention in bereavement situations

  • Psychological demobilization techniques to manage critical incidents

  • Group therapeutic intervention for evacuees

  • Community intervention techniques aimed at network recovery and social support.

  • Integration of first response teams participating in training programs, design of containment programs.

These are just some of the many techniques that the psychologist uses to intervene. It should be remembered that this will largely depend on the area in which the intervention is taking place: in some situations it will be necessary to put more emphasis on some points than on others.

Not all tragedies are the same, so it is impossible to establish equal protocols for asymmetric situations. The action sheet will depend on the type of disaster, The behavior of those affected, the seriousness and finally the casuistry of each intervention.

Role of the psychologist

The professional of this specialty of psychology must be prepared psychologically and emotionally to face the most varied contingencies.. Some emergency psychologists warn that this is a specialty in which, beyond the great technical and mental preparation it requires, a great vocation is essential. It must be admitted that not all psychologists are ready to act and work under such pressure and in situations of particular vulnerability.

It should be remembered that the psychologist will take care of people with traumatic episodes that can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, grief … The professional’s objective is to regulate emotional and psychological crises both individually and, above all, , at the level of the group in general who is in charge, which also implies excellence in the management of time and resources.

An interesting fact is that proposed by Beltrán, Valero and García (2007), who cite in their book Professionals in Psychology in the Face of the Door Disaster (1997), an author who states that the different aspects of training and skills qu ‘he owns having an emergency psychologist are:

  • social abilities

  • Communication techniques

  • Knowledge of collective behavior

  • Technical knowledge of emergency response

The role of the psychologist is raise awareness of their vulnerability and examine the psychoemotional impact of the disaster, Create an environment of protection and assistance, thus promoting a climate of trust in the person or group of people, and regulating the negative psychological reactions that occur in them.

There may be cases in which the professional must intervene with one of his colleagues or other members of the assistance teams (medical, security, technicians …), because a type of unforeseen negative reaction can also be present. appear. This circumstance is more common than you might think, and shows that no matter how prepared professionals are, no one is immune to a crisis.

Bibliographical references:

  • Acevedo, G. and Martínez, G. (2007). Public health manual. Editorial meeting. Cordoba, Argentina.
  • García Redón, J., Gil Beltrán, J., and Valero, V. (2007). Professionals in disaster psychology. Editorial Universitat Jaume I.

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