Abstract

Crisis and emergency counseling is an emerging profession that is gaining popularity among the emergency response units and the mental and psychological departments in the health department. In response efforts, a counselor is required to apply psychological, developmental and sociological principles in dealing with victims and survivors of a disaster. This essay focuses on the important roles played by crisis counselors in an Emergency Management Team. In addition to offering first aid and treating the patients of their physical injuries, the essay focuses on how the rescue organizations and health institutions are transforming in order to address psychological and mental effects to victims. Based on live interview with an emergency professional, the essay compares the interview reports with the guidelines provided by Mental Health All-Hazard Planning and how the intervention can be improved to incorporate the recommendations. These results helps the researcher in understanding the roles played by an crisis counseling professional in a disaster response unit as well as Skills, Knowledge, and Training Required for Crisis Counselors

Role of the Counselor in Emergency Management Teams

For the last several decades, America has faced a series of man-made and natural disaster that have changed the way in which emergency management teams approach the situations. The response to emergencies and disasters has garnered attention and stimulated focus on the nation. This attention include the continued planning and risk assessment for potential and obvious hazard events by outlining best practices in emergency planning , response, and recovery process following a disaster. As part of these changes, there is a new and emerging role for counselors in as core member of the emergency response and recovery team. In a disaster response situation like in the incidents of Hurricane, a counselor is requested to accompany the crisis rescue team to the crisis event as soon as the rescue operations. The crisis counselors are required to provide psychological first aid  and may also be asked to assist at a first aid location or a medical service center, family assistance center, or any temporarily set center where medical care, water, food and information is provided. This essay outlines how counselors can effectively contribute their knowledge, skills and expertise in setting out the planning, response and recovery process of the emergency response.

 

Interview with an Emergency Professional 

In order to understand the concept of counselor’s responsibility in crisis and emergency management, an interview was conducted with Mrs. Gonzalez. She is a licensed clinical therapist with a range of experience in the field of mental health and crisis management and intervention through Cardinal Innovations Mental Health Services. The most recent assignment was on 2013 where was assigned to a crisis intervention team for kids, adolescent and young adults who have had endured traumatic events and natural disasters like sexual assault, child abuse and abandonment. She is currently a member of the team responsible for assessing and developing strategies that directly involve traumatic response situations. 

She explained her role in the counseling process by providing a real time incidence she encountered in one of her activities. Gonzalez was an urgent responder counselor during the windstorm eruption in Raleigh, North Carolina. She was responsible for ensuring that the victims were provided with shelter, food, water, security and safety as well as reunifying them with their families. According to her work description, Mrs. Gonzalez was responsible for referring the victims to the agencies that would provide them with temporary accommodation, finances and food. The main agency was the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This is an independent organisation of the federal government that provides a point of accountability for all national emergency preparedness, disaster mitigation and response activities. In addition, she was required to secure a fine placement with a crisis counseling center where the psychological and mental healing process would be started and maintain a follow up of their victims. 

Mrs. Gonzalez led a crisis invention team of 20 individuals assigned to her half of whom were responsible for handling the mobile crisis and the rest would be stationed at rescue centers. The mobile unite would receive crisis calls and assess the severity of the crisis over the phone who would then summon the other team as the first responder counselors and social workers attending to victims mental and psychological problem. 

Comparison with the Mental Health All-Hazards Planning Guidance

The mental health all planning guidance is a program that is designed to enhance appropriate planning interventions when dealing with those in need. It helps in promoting resilience and recovery as well as providing opportunities for more efficient response in mental health. With sound and integrated planning, the disaster management team is able to fill new and complex roles of identifying disease outbreak and engaging effective intervention. In addition, the mental health all-hazard planning integrates physical health and the mental health response by conducting epidemiological surveillance which is ultimately essential for cases of bioterrorism threats.

As compared to the response of Gonzalez, it appears that there is a need to have a mental all-hazard planning in order to increase the disaster and crisis intervention. Although, Gonzalez team had a fair knowledge of planning for any expectations during the counseling process, there was a need to officially integrate the mental health all-hazards planning guidance in the program. This would help reduce the extent of mental damage to the survivors and the victims and reduce the pressure on the crisis counseling personnel. For instance, during the 2011 tornado epidemic in North Carolina, the mental health all-hazards planning program would have been in place in order to assess the likelihood of a disease outbreak  and direct the right medical intervention in-situ. Thus, the best recommendation is to have a collaboration of the crisis response team and the National Association of State Mental Health Program in order to assess the status of any disaster and provide guidance to team players on the important components of integrated approach. 

Counselor Responsibilities in Emergency Management

The counselors have been incorporated as part of the multi-disciplinary team that is required to evaluate the stress and vicarious trauma in disaster survivors and other members of the emergency response team. According to Stone, they first responders of a disaster, staff and other behavioral health responders exhibit characteristics similar to those of the victims over time. This necessitates the need to have their health and psychological status examined to evaluate their effectiveness in service delivery. 

Over time, the counselors have been heavily relied upon in times of crisis. For example, during Hurricane Katrina, the counselors were used during acute response efforts on the ground and subsequent long-term recovery process of the victims. In 2005, the National Board of Certified Counselors and the American Counseling Association in partnership with the American Red Cross deployed over 4,500 counselors in addition to other licensed medical professionals to provide assistance to victims of the Gulf coast and New Orleans in disaster response efforts. The American Counseling Association gained global recognition for sending over 20% of the total number of mental health counselors during the Hurricane Katrina tragedy. This knowledge was gained after the events of 9/11 where the behavioral health specialists and counselor efforts helped the survivors and their family in psychological recovery. The knowledge, skills and expertise of the counselors have continuously been sought to offer assistance in the progressive disaster planning efforts for all hazard emergency response such as natural disasters, terror and biochemical attacks. 

Skills, Knowledge and Training Required for Crisis Counselors

Disaster emotional health is a new specialty that has emerged due to increasing need to maintain psychological health for the victims and survivors. This demand has been sprawled by natural and human generated disasters which are related to loss of life and destruction of property and other irreplaceable belongings. These losses often lead to misery and often overwhelm an individual’s normalcy in coping with the capacity. According to Uhernik, disasters are also sensitive, social, cognitive and biological. In light of this, the American Counseling association has assembled these resources and developed a curriculum that every counselor needs to have in order to serve in a capacity of emergency and crisis counselor. 

A crisis counselor is required to have the appropriate family and crisis counseling techniques, theories and skills. The candidate must have a strong background in psychological, human behavior and group dynamics understanding. The skills required is the ability to communicate orally and also in writing with all stakeholders involved such as the survivors, general public, internal staff members, and other members of staff from different departments. This ability is of high importance as it allows one to give and receive information in a courteous manner without provoking additional mental problems. A crisis counselor should be able to use, take care and maintain the safety of the items and equipment assigned to them during a crisis situation. Lastly, effective delivery of the appropriate crisis counseling advice in a variety of settings is another key requirement of a crisis counselor. 

Professionally, the crisis counselor should have the physical and mental abilities to apply counseling techniques among diverse clients. This requires a counselor to assess the crisis situation and provide professional services as quickly as possible. High level of discipline is expected as the victims are required to be handled tactfully, courteously and causing more danger in the already difficult situation. While undertaking these essential functions, the counselor is expected to establish and maintain an effective working relationship with all the people whom he/she interacts with. 

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