Virginia Tech attacks mobilize crisis industry

Published 18 April 2007

Flush with federal grants, psychologists use the Web to share data, best practices; American School Counselor Association reports a doubling of membership since 9/11

The recent tragedy at Virginia Tech has already sparked an important debate about security at America’s colleges and lower schools — expect strong demand for biometric access control and surveillance systems — but just as critical is an appreciation of the psychologists who assist in putting the pieces back together after such terrible events. Made up of members of such groups as the American Psychological Association and the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), a “trauma industrial complex of sorts in Washington and across the country that has developed and matured in the wake of a decade of violent school shootings and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks,” the Politico reports. “Within our organization, the repeated need to respond to tragedies has changed our communications system,” said NASPS’s Kathy Cowan of the school psychologist group. These efforts have paid off: the American School Counselor Association reports that its membership rolls have doubled in the past six years.

Like the military industrial complex, the trauma industry has benefited from largesse at the federal level. The UCLA-Duke National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, for instance, was created by congress after the Columbine attacks with $28.5 million in HHS grants to sport a national network of forty-five centers based at fifteen universities and major medical centers — as well as thirty grass-roots and community-based organizations and programs. The center offers resources and training to mental health professionals who deal with traumatized children. Almost immediately after the Virginia Tech disaster was reported, it swung into action, posting information about mental health resources at the school, offering appropriate therapy manuals, and streaming a video demonstration of conducting effective group therapy. “These networks have become a resource for mobilizing when these traumatic events happen,” said center co-director John Fairbanks.