Clinical Corner Archives

Dealing with Disaster

For the Adult Population: the following excerpt is from a posting by Mark Reineke to the Academy of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies ListServ. Reprinted with permission.

Subj: Re: [ACT] disaster in nyc
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2001 5:14:06 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Mark Reinecke

I just did an interview with the Tribune regarding how we can help individuals living and working in highrises (e.g., Sears Tower, Hancock Center, Aon Building) to cope with feelings of anxiety. These are 100 story buildings in the Chicago loop which were frantically evacuated when the attacks began [reference to attacks in USA on September 11, 2001].

Here are my comments:

  1. Acknowledge the validity of their concerns. They’re reasonable given recent events…we are, in fact, more vulnerable than we’d thought. These are horrific events and their reactions are normal. We’re all experiencing them.
  2. Note that the the typical outcome to trauma is recovery. People are resilient. Feelings such as these typically remit spontaneously within two weeks.
  3. Encourage expression and discussion of thoughts and feelings…talk it out; encourage natural resilience.
  4. Seek support from friends, family church, and coworkers…you’re not in this alone. Provide support to others.
  5. Provide reassurance as to safety measures taken.
  6. Keep the probability of another attack in perspective. This was a horrific event, but it was localized. It’s still more likely that you’ll be injured in an automobile accident than by a terrorist attack. Although the risk isn’t zero, it remains extremely remote. (Attend to perceptual and memory biases that accompany anxiety disorders)
  7. Don’t watch CNN. Saturation coverage and repeated exposure to images of the buildings collapsing will lead to increased anxiety, recurrent images of it, and possible nightmares regarding the attack. People can develop symptoms of PTSD vicariously, particularly when the identify with the victim. Don’t let this happen through repeated exposure to media.
  8. Life is going on. It’s time to get to work…to help our families and communities. Maintain a normal routine. Ask, “What can I do to cope and to move forward for myself, my family, my colleagues, and my community?” Encourage rational problem-solving and behavioral activity. Resist withdrawal and avoidance.
  9. In some individuals, symptoms may persist beyond 2 weeks and frank symptoms of PTSD may emerge. Unfortunately, there are few reliable predictors of response to trauma for individual clients. With this in mind, individuals whose symptoms persist or become disabling should seek professional attention (from a therapist using empirically-supported techniques).

Mark A. Reinecke, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Director, Center for Cognitive Therapy, Department of Psychiatry, University of Chicago

The following excerpt is from a posting by Mark Reineke to the Academy of Cognitive and Behavior Therapies ListServ. Reprinted with permission.

Subj: [ACT] Helping children cope with trauma
Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2001 11:47:55 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Mark Reinecke

Dear Colleagues,

As a resource for helping children cope with this week’s tragedy [reference to attacks in USA on September 11, 2001], I wanted to share with you several tools prepared by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). Attached you will find links for the AACAP’s Talking Points – How To Talk To Children and Parents After A Disaster. They’re …somewhat short on specific recommendations for intervention, but are appropriate for sharing with parents.

The two Facts For Families can be downloaded at:
Facts for Families # 8 – Grief and Children (updated June 2018)
Facts For Families #36 – Disaster: Helping Children Cope (updated May 2020)

The Facts for Families are designed to be reproduced and distributed. Please feel free to make these available to your patients and their families, schools, and any other organizations which may benefit from the information.

Mark A. Reinecke, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Director, Center for Cognitive Therapy, Department of Psychiatry, University of Chicago

If the link is not working, try searching for the article title at

“The results suggest that no psychological intervention can be recommended for routine use following traumatic events and that multiple session interventions, like single session interventions, may have an adverse effect on some individuals. The clear practice implication of this is that, at present, multiple session interventions aimed at all individuals exposed to traumatic events should not be used.” (from Roberts, Kitchiner, Kenardy & Bisson, 2009)

Roberts NP, Kitchiner NJ, Kenardy J, Bisson JI. Multiple session early psychological interventions for the prevention of post-traumatic stress disorder. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 8. Art. No.: CD006869. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006869.pub3. Available online from

For Current Guidelines

Visit the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

Dear Colleagues:

We offer the following comments and resources from the *international cognitive therapy community

  • Click HERE for reprint of Ehlers, A & Clark, D.M. (2000). A cognitive model of posttraumatic stress disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 38, 319-345 (see Trauma section)
  • Our two hour 40 minute Padesky audio CD workshop Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Dr. Padesky illustrates in detail the revised CT treatment protocol developed by Ehlers and Clark.
  • Suggestions you can disseminate in your communities
    • for the adult population
    • helping children cope with trauma
  • Recommendation emerging from the latest empirical findings regarding Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD)>
  • Prisoners of Hate: The Mind of the Terrorists by AT Beck (see Aaron T. Beck section)

*We are grateful to our colleagues at the Academy of Cognitive and Behavior Therapies ListServ for allowing us to reprint these sources of empirical findings. And special thanks to Dr. Mark Reineke of the Center for Cognitive Therapy, University of Chicago, for permitting us to reprint his comments to the Chicago Tribune.

“Attacks / Tragedy” refers to the September 11, 2001 terrorist hijackings in the United States which led to the crashing of four airliners full of passengers into the 110 foot tall Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, into the Pentagon and into the ground in Somerset County, Pa. The World Trade Center was completely destroyed killing thousands of people. The death toll at the Pentagon exceeds 190 people. The crash in Pennsylvania killed all 44 people on board. According to (09/19/01) “The number of confirmed dead and those reported missing from the September 11 attacks is more than 5,500.” Currently 62 countries have people dead and/or missing as a result of these acts of terrorism.

Errata: the above statistics reported September 19, 2001 were inaccurate. The most current information as reported by CNN is that a total of 3,030 people were killed in the terrorist attacks on New York City, Washington, DC and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. At the World Trade Center (WTC) site in Lower Manhattan, 2,753 people were killed. At the Pentagon in Washington, 184 people were killed. Near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, 40 passengers and crew members aboard United Airlines Flight 93 died when the plane crashed into a field.

Web reference:

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