Southern Adventist University’s School of Social Work hosted an emergency response conference, “Psychological First Aid: Community Collaboration,” for the community on June 14.
The daylong conference covered several aspects on psychological and emotional response following disasters. Some of the breakout sessions included Helping Children and Teens, Caring for the First Responder, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Speakers ranged from professors in the School of Social Work to ministers and licensed counselors.
Sherry Campbell, graduate social work student, coordinated the conference as part of her graduate project under Sharon Pittman, Ph.D., Master of Social Work professor. The Tennessee Conference on Social Welfare (TCSW) assisted with the promotion and registration of the event. Other sponsors included Erlanger Health System and the Hospice of Chattanooga.
“I’m very grateful to the speakers who participated and the sponsors who allowed us to provide this to the community for free,” says Campbell.
Among the 110 people who attended the conference were police officers, teachers, counselors, and pastors. About 17 of the attendees were graduate social work students, some of which are pursuing an emphasis in trauma and emergency response. The diverse group demonstrates that emotional response isn’t only for social workers, but an interdisciplinary effort for anyone who’s interested.
“It’s not about going deep into counseling,” says David Houtchens, graduate social work student and Campus Safety fire systems manager. “It’s about providing emotional support.”
Recognizing there was a need for this type of emergency response, coordinators planned the conference last fall before any of the April tornadoes hit the area. Many of the accounts and examples shared during the conference were related to this recent disaster.
“We can do much better in creating a professional response,” says Pittman. “No one is immune from disasters; we need to be ready.”
The two days following the conference, the School of Social Work offered Community Emergency Response Training (CERT) and certification. These training courses were a mix of classroom instruction and hands-on experience. Several disasters were simulated to provide actual practice.
School of Social Work faculty and students hope this was the first of many conferences in the area of emergency response and other related topics. Because these conferences are linked with the graduate program, they want to keep hosting them on campus.
“The School of Social Work needs to be a hub for improving our social workers in the community,” says Pittman. “It meets our mission.”