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Cognitive-Behavioral Psychology: Implications for Disaster and Terrorism Response

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 June 2012

Josef I. Ruzek*
National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Veterans Administration (VA) Palo Alto Health Care System, Menlo Park, California, USA
Robyn D. Walser
National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Veterans Administration (VA) Palo Alto Health Care System, Menlo Park, California, USA
Amy E. Naugle
Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA
Brett Litz
National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Boston Veterans Affairs Health Care System, and Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Douglas S. Mennin
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
Melissa A. Polusny
Minneapolis Veterans Administration Medical Center, and University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Dianna M. Ronell
Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Kenneth J. Ruggiero
Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina, USA
Rachel Yehuda
Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and Bronx VA Medical Center, Bronx, New York, USA
Joseph R. Scotti
West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia, USA
National Center for PTSDVA Palo Alto Health Care SystemMail Code PTSD 334 MPD795 Willow RoadMenlo Park, CA 94025USA E-mail:


Given the personal and societal costs associated with acute impairment and enduring post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the mental health response to disasters is an integral component of disaster response planning. The purpose of this paper is to explore the compatibility between cognitive-behavioral psychology and the disaster mental health model, and explicate how cognitivebehavioral perspectives and intervention methods can enhance the effectiveness of disaster mental health services. It is argued that cognitive-behavioral methods, if matched to the contexts of the disaster and the needs of individuals, will improve efforts to prevent the development of PTSD and other trauma-related problems in survivors of disaster or terrorist events. First, the similarities between models of care underlying both disaster mental health services and cognitive-behavioral therapies are described. Second, examples of prior cognitive-behavioral therapy-informed work with persons exposed to disaster and terrorism are provided, potential cognitive-behavioral therapy applications to disaster and terrorism are explored, and implications of cognitive-behavioral therapy for common challenges in disaster mental health is discussed. Finally, steps that can be taken to integrate cognitive-behavioral therapy into disaster mental health are outlined. The aim is to prompt disaster mental health agencies and workers to consider using cognitive-behavioral therapy to improve services and training, and to motivate cognitive-behavioral researchers and practitioners to develop and support disaster mental health response.

Comprehensive Review
Copyright © World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine 2008

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