By now you have all probably seen the commercial featuring former Presidents Bush and Clinton regarding support for the tsunami relief efforts. Providing relief from natural disasters is almost a constant effort. A partial list of natural disasters over the last year includes hurricanes in Florida; flooding in Albania, Romania, the Russian Federation, Venezuela, Guyana, and Costa Rica; drought in Bolivia; a typhoon and earthquake in Japan; and volcanic eruptions in Papua New Guinea. Watching pictures of the devastation left after these disasters certainly instills a sense of sympathy and a desire to help.
Interestingly, the area of critical incident stress care, the area associated with helping after a natural disaster, has a relatively short history spanning the last 10 to 12 years. What have we learned over that time? So far, there appear to be several principles to providing critical incident stress care. First, it is important to have a carefully thought-out approach that does not waste resources or inadvertently cause harm. It is important to assess both physical and mental needs. In addition, recognize that families are a support group. Women use resources more than men. Finally, it is important to address the emotional needs of the caregivers and support staff.
What do these principles mean for psychologists in these situations? You might be surprised to know that psychologists initially do very little. In fact, recent research suggests pressing people into talking about their situation may actually be harmful. Therefore, psychologists serve three basic functions. First, they can provide encouragement and support. Support may often take the form of helping victims find resources to meet their basic needs like finding food and shelter. This is the function that most people perform when they help after a disaster. A second function is to train professionals and others to provide the mental health care that will be needed several months after the disaster recovery begins. Thus, the assistance psychologists are trained to provide is needed more after victims assess the damage and begin putting their lives and communities back together, not immediately after the natural disaster itself. Finally, psychologists can provide care to other recovery workers. As devastating as the destruction appears in pictures and on television, imagine experiencing it firsthand and witnessing the havoc wreaked on the lives of the victims. Psychologists can help provide support and care for recovery workers so that they can continue to give the encouragement and support the disaster victims need.
All of these factors contribute to the Mental Health Outreach Program to Sri Lanka led by Dr. Anie Kalayjian of Fordham University (Kalayjian, 2005; see page 62). The Mental Health Outreach Program includes the eight phases of pre-assessment, assessment, analysis, community diagnosis, planning, implementation, evaluation, and re-modification. Notice how the program assesses needs before dealing with traumatic memories and experiences. A primary goal of the program is to help find and emphasize positive meaning in the lives of the victims while giving special attention to religion, cultural norms for communicating and sharing feelings, and the political landscape.
Psi Chi is an academically oriented organization, yet it values service. The mission of Psi Chi is to "produce a well-educated, ethical, and socially responsible member committed to contributing to the science and profession of psychology and to society in general" (Psi Chi, 2005). One of the objectives of this mission is to "promote ethical and socially responsible members and leaders." Psi Chi is not alone in promoting service. In fact, you might have noticed that many institutions have adopted service projects or established service days. At George Fox University (OR), for instance, we have Serve Day at the beginning of the fall semester during which teams of students and faculty go to different locations throughout the area completing a variety of jobs for numerous organizations. Even K-12 grade schools are incorporating service projects into their curriculum. Why? Part of the reason is that researchers are finding that service projects help develop moral character. Helpfulness is also viewed positively across cultures. Another reason is people are expected to help others in need of help (the social responsibility norm). As Past-President Dr. Martha Zlokovich (2004) noted in her summer presidential message, the positive psychology research, particularly that conducted by Seligman, suggests that service helps provide meaning in life.
Those are some reasons why we help. How does Psi Chi promote service? Psi Chi carefully selects national service projects and has determined that completing a service project is a requirement for the Model Chapter Award. UNICEF was adopted as a national service project several years ago. If you want to help in the tsunami recovery, you might consider raising money for UNICEF. However, it is important not to overlook needs closer to home. The poverty rate in the United States is 12.5 percent. That translates into 35.9 million people living in poverty. Habitat for Humanity is a well-known organization that Psi Chi has endorsed for national service projects. Building a home as a chapter can be extremely rewarding on several levels. Obviously, there is a benefit to the family for which the home is being built. There is the intrinsic reward of helping others. In addition, working closely with other chapter members also helps build a better appreciation for one another and chapter unity (see page 59 in Sightings).Chapters can also engage in a food drive. Food drives have been recognized as a national service project as well. You will learn more about food drives in the coming months from Psi Chi's President-Elect, Dr. Robert Youth, who is spearheading Psi Chi's role in a national food collection program.
As you plan your events for the remainder of the academic year and for next year, keep in mind the need and benefits of service projects and include a project that will positively impact others. Also, be sure to share your projects in Eye on Psi Chi so that others can get ideas on how to incorporate service into chapter activities.
Kalayjian, A. (2005). Post tsunami mental health outreach program in SE Asia. Retrieved February 21, 2005, from Psi Chi website: http://www.psichi.org/news/article_153.asp
Psi Chi (2005). Purpose & mission statements. Retrieved February 21, 2005, from Psi Chi website: http://www.psichi.org/about/purpose.asp
Zlokovich, M. S. P. (2004). Putting Psi Chi to work to help others. Eye on Psi Chi, 8(4), 3, 7.
Photo [above]: Devastation in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka (Photo by Dr. Anie Kalayjian)
Spring 2005 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 9, No. 3, pp. 4, 29), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 2005, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.