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In November 2014, I had the good fortune to be the recipient of an ISTSS travel grant, which allowed me to attend the ISTSS Annual Meeting for the first time.

My interest in the meeting was born of the fact that the Philippines lies in the “ring of fire,” making it prone to earthquakes. This is exacerbated by the fact that the country is also struck by 10-20 typhoons each year. Moreover, in November, 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan, the deadliest typhoon in the history of the world, struck the Philippines killing more than 6,000 people, affecting 16 million and displacing four million more. Today, two million remain living without adequate shelter or durable housing and 26,000 displaced people live in temporary shelters or transitional collective displacement sites. (Click photo to enlarge)

It was important to me to attend the ISTSS meeting to learn more about disaster interventions and tools we could apply to help our survivors. I was not disappointed. I was fascinated to see the extent to which technology is used in therapeutic interventions, even though I also realized how far a developing country such as ours has to go in terms of harnessing technology for mental health.

I was heartened to learn that multi-family and community approaches to resilience would be especially useful in a collectivist culture such as ours. I saw the breadth of disaster research and noted the movement from epidemiological studies to experimental designs. It was interesting to see the spectrum of studies from trauma to that of resilience. I also noted the increasing emphasis on ethics, especially on disaster research and intervention. I was awed by the amount of resources that developed economies provide for both mental health services and research.

Even though the majority of participants represented the developed and Western world, the support from ISTSS was heartening because it indicated its interest in other cultures and contexts. For example, in the Philippines, the lack of resources and mental health professionals has led to the use of more group-oriented interventions. Being a predominantly Catholic country, the role of spirituality and faith is also an important element in disaster interventions.  

Beyond the differences, I also noted common challenges in disaster response. I noted the shared dilemma of how to conduct rigorous research in a chaotic environment. Regardless of region, there is the challenge of information management and monitoring to ensure that responders and researchers do not deluge an area and overwhelm survivors. I also noted a need for culturally sensitive and appropriate tools.

I left the meeting both inspired and challenged to strengthen the work we do and share it with the rest of the world. The advice I received will be very helpful in shaping our future efforts. I felt fortunate to be a part of a community of psychologists who devote their energies and resources to helping others become more resilient and overcome personal traumas. It was a privilege to be a part of the community that is ISTSS.  

About the Author
Dr. Regina Hechanova, PhD, is a professor of Psychology at the Ateneo de Manila University and the most recent president of the Psychological Association of the Philippines.