It is a privilege to provide this introduction to Disaster Mental Health Services: Manual for Workers. This Manual and the accompanying Training Guide, while presented in basic terms and designed for practical use, represent a remarkable compendium of state-of-the-art information.
Although the timing of individual events may be difficult to predict, natural or human-initiated disasters are tragic, but predictable, occurrences in our world. Hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, explosions, and other such catastrophes are reported with regularity across the globe, and each takes its toll, both on those who experience the disaster directly and on others in our society.
The emerging recognition of the short- and long-term psychosocial and psychophysiologic impact of disasters is a subtle contribution to our understanding of human adaptation and illness. The opportunity to aid victims through prompt and effective intervention can play a crucial role in preventing many of the untoward short- and longer-term sequelae that we have learned to recognize.
In the aftermath of major disasters, there is often a gratifying response from persons anxious to help, which can be appropriate and effective. However, at the same time, an influx of untrained and unorganized volunteers can add to the problem. Mental health professionals who are skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of the usual forms of individual psychopathology are valuable. However, if they are untrained in the public and mental health aspects of disasters, or if their efforts are poorly coordinated, they contribute little to the needed intervention or prevention of illness.
Dr. Raquel Cohen, author of this manual and the training guide, is among the world's foremost authorities on the psychological and social consequences of disasters and on methods for rapid and effective intervention. Her contributions to the literature on the psychological and social impact of disasters put her at a level without peer. Her remarkable experiences, which range from helping individual victims to advising government leadership councils, have led her to develop a model for addressing the consequences of disasters in the populations involved. Dr. Cohen's understanding of the interplay of individual psychology, social systems, and somatic vulnerabilities are, in my opinion, of fundamental value.
I hope that this volume receives the widespread attention it deserves and that training for mental health interventions in crisis situations becomes an obligatory course of instruction for all mental health workers, and, indeed, for health care providers in general.
Carl Eisdorfer, Ph.D., M.D.
Professor and Chairman
Department of Psychiatry
University of Miami School of Medicine