April 3, 2009
Crisis Intervention Training for Disaster Workers: An Introduction
Crisis Intervention Training for Disaster Workers: An Introduction is an information-packed book about disasters and crises, the psychological impact of such events upon people, from the victims to the disaster workers, and also a psychological explanation of those who create crises, such as terrorists. Anyone who is considering being a disaster worker of any type, whether it is working for an organization like FEMA or even being an EMT, police officer, or volunteer fireman will find value in this book as it lays out various situations and what the disaster worker should know and be prepared to handle since an emergency or crisis could happen unexpectedly at any time.
Besides discussing the fundamentals of being a disaster worker, the book provides multiple examples of disasters in various parts of the world and more than anything, makes it clear how important it is to respect and understand the people and culture of an individual region. The most important and first point the book makes is in defining a crisis as “an individual’s response to a situation rather than in terms of the situation itself. The same situation may produce a crisis in one person, but not in another. A crisis exists when a person feels so threatened in a situation that he/she cannot cope with it…Thus, a crisis exists IN a person.” (p. 3)
This understanding of what defines a crisis is beneficial in the explorations the book provides of everything from chapters on “Children and Disasters” to “Special Risk Groups,” Crises in Rural Areas” and “War” and “Terrorism and Terrorists.” The book does an excellent job of providing diversity of examples from a wide range of cultures spanning discussions of the September 11th terrorist attacks to the 1980s farm crisis in the United States to war in Bosnia, lethal violence toward people accused of witchcraft in South Africa, and civil war in El Salvador. I had assumed the book would focus on natural disasters, but I was surprised by how much of the book focused on man-made disasters, including terrorism and war. While the disaster worker needs to understand the psychology of victims, the book excelled in providing explanations behind the psychological portraits of people who become terrorists or who inflict acts of violence upon people; the intention here is that the disaster worker who has an understanding of the perpetrator’s behavior will be better able to comfort the victims. I found these sections on war and terrorism to be the most interesting aspects of the book.
The book does suffer somewhat from a lack of focus. Because the title contains the word “training” I at first thought it would read like a manual or textbook about what is required of disaster workers and how to become one. The early chapters of the book do contain some of this information, and the appendices also suggest that training is part of the goal. Appendix A provides a series of disaster scenarios and then asks the reader to create a plan for how to deal with the situation. For example, during a disaster, you have to help a family deal with the death of loved ones, answering questions from the coroner’s office and making funeral arrangements. The book asks, “How do you help the families answer questions and guide them through the various activities?” The book provides several such scenarios. I think the questions are excellent and give future disaster workers an idea of what they need to be prepared to handle, but I did not feel I could adequately answer all these questions or be prepared to handle these situations after reading the book. Appendix C is a Course Test, which if you complete and mail with a check to the Rocky Mountain Region Disaster Mental Health Institute, you will have graded, and if you pass the test, a certificate issued to you worth 15 contact hours for your exposure to the material and understanding of it.
The book’s lack of focus may be due to its organization and compilation. The chapters do not seem to follow a progressive order. I felt Chapter 7 “Crisis and Crises Intervention” would have made more sense as Chapter 3 after Chapter 2 on “Fundamentals” and before the book got into specifics about children and disasters and rural areas. I suspect the book is composed of what were originally different articles—in one chapter, it is stated there was not time to discuss specific details in this “article.” I think the book should be read as a series of articles on the subject of Crisis Intervention Training rather than a book whose chapters progress toward a final outcome expected. I also suspect the book was initially articles because of the repetition throughout the book. I don’t want to suggest this organizational issue makes the book’s value any less, but simply to help the reader understand the book’s structure and how best to read it. The reader will still come away more knowledgeable on the subject of Crisis Intervention, and the book would work as a wonderful resource accompanied by classroom or field instruction.
Overall, Crisis Intervention Training for Disaster Workers: An Introduction provides a great deal of information, and much thought and research has been put into it—the author has about 300 resources listed at the end, including books, articles and websites he used in compiling his information. The author also has decades of personal experience as a counselor, therapist, disaster mental health specialist and president and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Region Disaster Mental Health Institute. That barely begins to touch his qualifications, all of which are listed in the book and convince me that George Doherty, M.S, LPC definitely knows what he is writing about.
Anyone considering becoming a disaster worker of any type should read this book to be aware of what is required. Even if you’re not interested in being a disaster worker, the insights on the psychological affects of war and terrorism alone will make this book a fascinating read.
— Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D., author of The Marquette Trilogy
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