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Disaster Psychosocial Program: Helping those impacted by disasters

We see the damage disasters cause to physical structures, but what about the impact you can't see immediately - the effect on the people who experience the disaster firsthand? Enter the Disaster Psychosocial team at PHSA.
DPS team

“No one who sees a disaster is untouched by it – that’s our mantra,” said Heleen Sandvik, Provincial Lead, Disaster Psychosocial (DPS) Program. “Emergencies and disasters don’t just impact buildings and structures – they can devastate those who experience them.”

 DPS began with the idea that professional registered therapists and other clinicians would consider volunteering their time in the event of a large scale emergency or disaster to respond to the psychosocial needs of the public and responders before, during and after an event.
How DPS helps
The goals of the program are to:
  • help diminish long-term psychosocial effects;
  • clarify a current disaster or emergency situation; and
  • improve an individual or community’s adaptive coping mechanisms.

“Our service offering is diverse,” said Heleen. “DPS includes everything from Psychological First Aid, such as assessment, one-to-one support and crisis counseling; to stress management education sessions, community psychosocial needs assessment, worker care, and consultation provided to, for example, emergency managers, public relations and incident commanders.”

Providing psychosocial response ensures immediate, short-term service to help people help themselves, enhance individual resiliency and encourage community recovery and adaptation through ownership, responsibility and action.

The impact across the province is enormous – from September 2012 to March 2014, DPS trained 1,153 people and provided 8,651 psychosocial interactions.

Volunteers play key role

The program relies heavily on the support of volunteers, who are mental health professionals and para-professionals, including registered psychologists, social workers, clinical counsellors, police victim services and spiritual care/pastoral counsellors.

“Without a doubt, this program wouldn’t exist without our volunteers,” said Heleen. “Those who have been involved have said that it has been a rewarding opportunity. It’s being there in the moment and it’s a level of human-to-human contact that many of us don’t do on a daily basis.”

A province-wide strategy

The DPS program is responsible for developing a long-term disaster psychosocial strategy for B.C. that includes supportive DPS services targeting those people affected by an emergency or disaster and includes the promotion of individual, family and community resiliency.

In May 2001, under the umbrella of the Greater Vancouver Mental Health Agency, the Disaster Stress & Trauma Response Services Committee (currently the Disaster Psychosocial Committee) and volunteer network was formed. The program moved from a municipal to a provincial level when it was transferred to PHSA from the Ministry of Health in 2009.

For more information or to apply as a DPS volunteer, email or visit

SOURCE: Disaster Psychosocial Program: Helping those impacted by disasters ( )
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