Characteristics and experiences of professionals providing 9/11 mental health services

BACKGROUND: After disasters, mental health professionals might be called upon to help address the emotional consequences of the disaster among survivors and other affected groups, but the clinicians themselves could be affected. This exploratory study examined the experiences of 60 mental health professionals, most of whom provided mental health care to individuals affected by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks (9/11), and/or experienced 9/11 sequelae themselves.

METHODS: Participants completed structured interviews 3 and/or 6 years after the disaster, with full diagnostic assessment of psychiatric disorders and questions specific to their personal and professional post-9/11 experience.

RESULTS: Providing postdisaster care was somewhat stressful initially, but long-term effects were more positive than negative, with overall benefit to many personal lives. Most found their clients’ 9/11 stories emotionally upsetting, yet characterized their 9/11 mental health work as positive. Work satisfaction increased by 3-fold, but this effect was transitory. Onethird had postdisaster psychopathology, but most was pre-existing and therefore not a product of disaster-related stressors.

CONCLUSIONS: Although most mental health professionals initially found the emotional difficulty of their work increased after 9/11, this negative effect had largely dissipated over the years. Opportunities for disaster mental health training and initial logistical support could benefit these professionals.

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