Trauma knows no boundaries

Dr Noreen Tehrani writes on behalf of the British Psychological Society's Crisis, Disaster and Trauma Psychology Section.

In an increasingly connected world it is inconceivable that British psychology would ever consider becoming isolationist. This is particularly true for trauma where the impact of natural disasters, terrorism, internet child abuse and travel are international. The British Psychological Society’s Crisis, Disaster and Trauma Psychology Section is a proud member of the standing committee of the European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations that brings together traumatologists from most European countries, including some outside the EU.

Britain is not alone in having to deal with devastating terrorist attacks that have been affecting many cities throughout Europe; and in most cases terrorists have selected areas popular with families and tourists, with the result that many of those killed and injured are nationals of other countries. This issue was recently discussed at an EFPA meeting where the problems faced when repatriating traumatised victims of a terrorist attack can be difficult due to the lack of structures and procedures for ensuring any continuity of care.

Refugees are involved in another pan-European situation that needs careful planning and coordination. With the growing numbers of desperate people leaving Africa and the Middle East there needs to be a greater understanding in how psychology can best provide for their emotional needs. The numbers involved challenges the use of the traditional individual therapy and counselling and forces practitioners to consider other methods and processes to support the men, women and children who have been exposed to some of the most devastating and distressing experiences not only in their country of origin but also as they have travelled to Europe, with many being at the mercy of traffickers and harsh conditions, including treacherous boat trips across the Mediterranean to the relative safety in the Europe. The CDT Psychology Section is about to publish a report on refugees that was commissioned by the BPS.

Global warming is creating new hazards, the warming of the oceans is causing major climatic changes throughout the world, including Europe. We are experiencing floods, droughts and hurricanes at a frequency not previously experienced. Many areas of the UK and Europe have experienced flooding that is often unpredictable in its nature and magnitude. In a symposium organised by the Section at the beginning of the year we heard how the flooding in Cumbria disrupted roads and communications leaving the emergency planners with an unimaginably complex situation to resolve, way beyond anything that they had envisaged, giving rise to the call from the emergency services for help in identifying new ways to undertake the highly complex decision making that is required in a disaster.

During this year’s European Semester of Psychology, hosted by the UK, the BPS Crisis, Disaster and Trauma Psychology Section will hold a meeting of the EFPA standing committee. We have asked to start the session with a review of areas where there is a need for concerted European action in seeking solutions for problems which demand joint working and shared learning. We are currently looking for three themes to present and have sought the input of the members of our Section to make suggestions on what they feel are the ‘hot topics’ for discussion. The Section wants to work with our European colleagues to build a safer and more caring world that has the strength and capacity to meet the constantly emerging demands to deal with crisis, disaster and trauma within our communities.

Dr Noreen Tehrani
Chair, British Psychological Society Crisis, Disaster and Trauma Psychology Section

Editor’s note: During the European Semester of Psychology (see President’s Letter, this issue), we would like to prompt discussion around relevant topics. For example, is there such a thing as ‘European Psychology’, and if so how is it likely to be affected by Brexit? Send us your thoughts, and we’ll publish a selection in print and/or online at

Illustration: Tim Sanders

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