Therapy in LA
Therapy in L.A.


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  psych bytes
January 2002
By Joyce Parker, Ph.D.

Some information contained in this report is summarized from an article in the December issue of the NASW California News

Critical Incident Stress Management is a crisis intervention program developed by two psychologists, Jeffery Mitchell, Ph.D. and George Everly, Ph.D. It was used at first for emergency service workers who experienced trauma during their emergency work. Later it was extended to use with groups of victims, the families of victims and those closely related in some way to the traumatic event.

The Critical Incident Stress Debriefing is one form of CISM. It is an intervention for a small group of primary victims or individuals related closely to victims. It is a structured conversation about the traumatic events. It allows individuals to describe the events they witnessed and to express their feelings and fears about the situation. The goal is to reduce the impact of the crisis and to help begin the recovery process.

I was involved in such a group on September 12, 2001. The American Airlines Washington D.C. crews were quartered in a hotel in Long Beach waiting for the U.S. Government to allow air travel after the September 11th attacks. The man who organizes the scheduling for these crews requested Critical Incident Stress Management Services to help these people deal with the traumatic events and the loss of one entire American Airlines Washington crew in the Pentagon attack. I was asked to run the group with the help of another mental health professional and several AA employees who had been involved in crisis management after airline crashes. There were both flight attendants and pilots involved in this debriefing. They were all in the initial phases of grief; some numb and disbelieving, others angry, many frightened to return to flying and some in shock. We went around the room and allowed each person to talk about his or her own experiences and reactions. They described their relationships with the lost crew and their memories of them. The group was very supportive of all members and especially tried to help those new flight attendants that were particularly frightened to return to flying. There was discussion of the instructions they had been given in the case of hijackings that no longer were appropriate for terrorist incidents with suicidal destructive intent. The pilots felt responsible for their crews and were reevaluating their responses to future hijackings. We attempted to help the group normalize their reactions. We also provided materials on grief reactions and resources that were available if anyone needed additional help. The group took over two hours. Many of the participants spontaneously hugged each other and us after we adjourned. I hoped that I had been helpful in reducing the impact of the trauma and accelerating the normal recovery process for these people.

Some helpful websites:

A brochure, Managing Traumatic Stress, is available at the American Psychological Association Website,

Coping with the Aftermath of a Disaster by John Tassey, Ph.D., is also available at the APA website,, go to "search" and type in the title of the article

The article, Tips on Talking with Kids About Terrorism, can be found at

The author of this article, and founder of the website, Joyce Parker, passed away in 2011. To honor her we are keeping her articles posted at this website.

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