“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
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.health.gov.bc.ca/emergency/dstrs.html.