International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Clinicians Providing Counseling to New York Uniformed Services

Posted 1 July 2002 in StressPoints by Dorothy Kurlander, New York, N.Y.

Only one day after the September 11 attacks, a small group of clinicians joined together to develop a coalition of volunteers who committed to providing pro bono psychological services for New York City's uniformed service personnel and their families, for as long as it takes. The New York Disaster Counseling Coalition (NYDCC), a not-for-profit organization, has grown from that original small group to include hundreds of volunteer clinicians committed to donating a minimum of one pro bono session per week with a client who is seen in the privacy and confidentiality of the clinician's office.

Though NYDCC was founded in response to September 11, it is not limited to serve those directly affected by the attack. The motto of NYDCC, "for as long as it takes," focuses on the long term. Meeting the broadest needs, NYDCC consists of licensed psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and clinical nurse specialists and represents a diverse ethnicity, a broad range of skills and geographical locations throughout the tristate area (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut).

It's a daunting task to reach out to a population that historically has been reluctant to seek help. Clinicians know that trauma can trigger difficulties that reverberate years after the initial incident, but how is that message conveyed? How do clinicians remove the stigma associated with requesting help, especially by a population that prides itself on giving help, not needing it? One way is to work from the top down and from the bottom up, meeting with departmental officials as well as peer organizations, union representatives and grass root organizations. NYDCC reaches out to spouses and partners of uniformed service members, as well as to the clergy, informing them about the services offered. Many times a clergy member is the first person that the family contacts. Physicians are another point of contact, often treating several members of the same family and recognizing that patients frequently somatize emotional conflicts. NYDCC includes as many levels of contact as possible to provide access to mental health services for the unique population that the group serves.

Most organizations first starting out face many challenges. Flexibility is important. The NYDCC volunteers' level of commitment provides great responsiveness. The NYDCC has become a resource for many relief organizations and will be developing peer training programs with emergency medical service organizations. Many NYDCC clinicians are facilitating group town hall informational sessions for the Columbia University Police Project. Because the volunteers will need to process their experiences, peer supervision groups are being developed.

NYDCC is an interactive organization, sending monthly updates to volunteers informing them of plans and programs. Clinicians are polled for their opinions on matters affecting the organization, and NYDCC has become a source of information for them as well. As the needs of the community and the volunteers are identified, committees have formed to focus on specific areas requiring immediate attention. Each committee is chaired by an NYDCC board member with a volunteer member reporting to the committee chair. Active committees include physician's initiative project, public relations, Web site development, training, psychiatrist outreach, recruitment, gay and lesbian outreach and clergy liaison.

Currently, NYDCC receives referral requests from many sources: uniformed service personnel and their spouses and partners; counseling service units of NYC uniformed service personnel departments; and organizations, such as LifeNet-Mental Health Association of N.Y. Focus is directed to clients' needs, as well as to NYDCC volunteers-this organization strives to serve both. As the roster of clinical specialists continues to grow, it is most gratifying to watch the NYDCC organization develop a comprehensive network of clinicians, services and clients.

For more information, contact Dorothy Kurlander at nydcc@traumaresponse.org.