Today seemed to be an important validation for us as clinicians. I only wish this information could have been brought to us back in 2006. I hope this information you are learning, packaging and presenting can be used to help other clinicians in situations similar to Hurricane Katrina.
–Comment made after the conference marking
the fifth anniversary of the hurricane
This website describes a program designed to support mental health professionals in communities struck by disaster. The FAR Fund-NOLA project was tailored to meet the needs of psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers that were facing the challenging task of helping their patients recover from Hurricane Katrina, while simultaneously dealing with its effects on their own lives. We learned many lessons in the course of that work and summarize them here.
Hurricane Katrina left a mental health crisis of epidemic proportions in its wake. Immediately after the storm, mental health volunteers flooded the area; some offered crisis counseling to those immediately affected, others ran brief training groups for the first responders working with survivors. Some local clinicians, unable to return to their offices, volunteered in shelters in Baton Rouge and at other crisis centers around in the Gulf area.
When the floodwaters receded, local mental health professionals employed in public health settings and not-for-profit agencies, or in hospitals and other government funded programs, often had opportunities to debrief with a network of colleagues. Administrators ensured that in-service training and supervision or peer supervision were available. But clinicians in private practice often found themselves bearing the brunt of post-traumatic uncertainty alone.
A little more than two years after the storm, most mental health professionals had few supports and even fewer ways of understanding how to adjust to the long-term impact of the disaster on their work and in their lives. Many of the short term solutions that had been offered gave temporary respite, but in the end they did not address the ongoing sense of fragility, helplessness and isolation that many clinicians and their patients were contending with.
In 2008, the New Orleans Birmingham Psychoanalytic Center was awarded a four year grant by The FAR Fund specifically tailored to meet the needs, and to describe the experiences, of local clinicians in the years when the storm’s psychological toll was at its worst, and to place these needs and experiences in a psychoanalytic framework. Designed by and for local clinicians, the program offered support to a community of local mental health providers of all disciplines and theoretical orientations as they worked through the impact of the trauma they had shared with their clients. The long-term goal of this program was to develop a model to better understand how shared trauma affects psychotherapists and the process of psychotherapy.
In A Paradise Made in Hell, author Rebecca Solnit emphasizes the divide between government paralysis and the private individuals who make up “the extraordinary communities that arose in disaster.” We hope that we represented one such community. This website is our legacy to therapists in communities in the future who find themselves sharing a disaster with their patients.