Disaster Psychiatry

Role of Psychiatrists in Disasters and Mass Traumas

As clinician responders, psychiatrists provide valuable medical experience and expertise during disasters and mass traumas in addition to counseling roles in disaster preparation and recovery.

APA's Committee on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disaster – composed of experts focused on facilitating and developing education and training in disaster psychiatry – created and compiled the following resources:

Education and Training

Proper education and training is necessary for clinician responders to effectively integrate into a disaster response. The APA Annual Meeting features disaster sessions with experts presenting on experiences in the field. Key factors that responders take into consideration include Readiness, Evaluation, and Intervention.


An appropriate understanding of the various components of disaster response protects both the clinician responder and victims of disaster and mass traumas.

  • Preparation and System Issues: role differentiation and understanding the response system
  • Risk Communication: disseminating information and communicating care
  • Self-Care: developing a self-care plan, self-awareness, and managing stress
  • Needs Assessment: community evaluations and assessment guidelines
  • Legal and Ethical: confidentiality, licensure, and liability issues

SAMHSA Disaster Technical Assistance Center: SAMHSA’s Disaster Technical Assistance Center provides education and training information on disaster behavioral health. Responders can download the free smartphone Disaster App to access critical, disaster-related behavioral health resources.


Assessment of a community takes into consideration the mental health of affected individuals and vulnerable populations.

  • Psychiatric Evaluation: relevant factors and psychological consequences of disaster
  • Special Populations: ethno-cultural issues and needs based on age, gender, and physical disability
  • Serious Mental Illness (SMI): the effects of disaster and post disaster issues on SMI
  • Substance Abuse: screening and assessment of substance abuse after disasters
  • Personality Issues: assessing and managing personality issues in disaster settings
  • Injuries and Triage of Medical Complaints: diagnosing the mind-body connection
  • Grief and Resilience: post disaster course of onset, biopsychosocial factors, and cultural issues

Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress (CSTS): CSTS a national academic-based organization dedicated to advancing trauma-informed knowledge, leadership, and methodologies, provides extensive research, education, and consultation on disaster mental health.


Evidence-based approaches and treatment strategies can differ among groups and incorporate aspects of psychosocial support and crisis management.

  • Psychological First Aid (PFA): understanding core elements and goals of PFA
  • Group and Family: peer-led support groups and professional-led therapeutic groups
  • Psychotherapies: short-term, long-term, alternative, and cultural-specific therapies
  • Psychopharmacology: goals and considerations in acute and postacute phase interventions
  • Child and Adolescent: pre-disaster, acute, and post-acute interventions including pediatric care
  • Geriatric: risk factors and intervention strategies

National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN): NCTSN, a national collaborative network of academic institutes and governmental and nongovernmental organizations, publishes the Psychological First Aid Operations Guide (2nd Edition) and offers Psychological First Aid Online training.

Related Publications

Disaster Psychiatry: Readiness, Evaluation, and Treatment (2011): A joint initiative of APA, Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry, and Disaster Psychiatry Outreach to provide evidence-based recommendations for psychiatric evaluation and treatment.

FOCUS Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Maintenance of Certification (MOC) Workbook (2015): A collection of practical and evidence-based materials to help psychiatrists evaluate and advance their assessment, communication, diagnostic, and treatment skills for posttraumatic stress disorder.