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The role of Psychology in emergencies and disasters

The role of Psychology in emergencies and disasters

April 9, 2024

In our time, the effects of climate change and the high levels of pollution that industrial powers emit 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 provoked, added to the warlike conflicts that take place in many regions of the world, such as the recent bombings in the Gaza Strip, warn us of a state of emergency not only medical but also psychological, giving rise to many disorders that can only be be treated by mental health specialists.

Psychology in emergencies and disasters

The figure of the psychologist is one of the different professionals and specialists who intervene in situations of disaster . The role or role that fulfills within the team responsible for normalizing life in these scenarios is certainly cardinal, and it is for this reason that the presence of qualified mental health professionals is essential when addressing these phenomena. Through this writing we will define what is the psychology of emergencies and disasters, the fields of interaction, the techniques and the role of the psychologist.

This branch of psychology that studies the experiences and reactions of the person or groups of people before, during and after emergencies is experiencing a boom due to the need to cover this type of limit situations with trained professionals.

Defining Psychology in emergencies and disasters

In the book Public health manual , the authors define the Psychology of emergencies and disasters in this way:

"The Psychology of Emergencies and Disasters is the branch of psychology that encompasses the study of behavior and the mode of reaction of individuals, groups or human groups in the different phases of an emergency or disaster situation" (Acevedo and Martínez, 2007 ).

Today, this subdiscipline has expanded rapidly and every time it becomes more necessary due to changes in all spheres, in a time when natural disasters are frequent and armed conflicts make a dent in many parts of the planet. There is no part of the world that is not shaken by an event that requires urgent assistance.

All these circumstances have made it essential in many countries to include mental health professionals in the intervention and rescue work groups, in order to intervene in any emergency that may arise.

Psychology in emergencies: intervention fields

The psychologist who works in this field is related to all kinds of professionals, such as technicians, doctors, social workers, sociologists, engineers, rescue and aid organizations such as the Red Cross, police, army, civil defense, etc. Likewise, this young branch of psychology is also closely linked 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 that the bidirectional relationship with the other branches of psychology enriches the work of the psychologist who works in emergency situations, combining the knowledge of different areas to be able to offer an urgent assistance service adapted to the complexity that these situations entail.

Intervention Techniques of Psychology in emergencies and disasters

According to Acevedo and Martínez (2007), The techniques are the following :

  • Psychological first aid
  • Intervention in situations of grief
  • Techniques of psychological demobilization for the handling of critical incidents
  • Therapeutic group intervention for evacuees
  • Community intervention techniques aimed at the recovery of networks and social support.
  • Integration of first response teams participating in training programs, designing containment programs.

These are some of the many techniques that the psychologist uses to intervene. We must not forget that it will depend to a large extent on the field where the intervention is developed: in some situations it will be necessary to emphasize some points more than others.

Not all tragedies are the same, therefore it is not feasible to establish equal protocols for asymmetric situations. The action sheet will depend on the type of disaster , the behavior of the people who have been affected, the seriousness, and ultimately the casuistic characteristic of each intervention.

Role of the psychologist

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

It should be remembered that the psychologist will deal with people with traumatic episodes that can generate anxiety states, panic attacks, discomfort ... The goal of the professional 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 posed by Beltrán, Valero and García (2007), who cite in their book Professionals of Psychology in the Disaster of Puertas (1997), an author who affirms that the different aspects of training and competencies that a Emergency psychologist are:

  • Social skills
  • Communication techniques
  • Knowledge about collective behavior
  • Technical knowledge of emergency intervention

The role of the psychologist is make people aware of their vulnerable states and examine the psycho-emotional impact of the disaster , creating an environment of protection and assistance, thus promoting a climate of trust in the person or group of people, and regulate the negative psychological reactions that arise in them.

There may be cases in which the professional will have to intervene with one of his colleagues or other members of assistance teams (medical, security, technical ...), because they can also present in them some kind of negative reaction not foreseen. This circumstance is more common than you might think, and attests that no matter how prepared the professionals are, no one is immune from suffering a crisis.

Bibliographic references:

  • Acevedo, G. and Martínez, G. (2007). Public Health Manual. Editorial Encuentro. Cordoba Argentina.
  • García Redón, J., Gil Beltrán, J., and Valero, V. (2007). Professionals of psychology before the disaster. Editorial Universitat Jaume I.

Emergency Management - Disaster Psychology (April 2024).

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