TPD İzmir Branch provided psychological support to 2,315 earthquake survivors

Turkish Psychologists Association İzmir Branch (Türk Psikologları Derneği İzmir Şubesi – TPD) received a grant from our İzmir Earthquake Emergency Relief Fund, and provided psychological support to 2,315 earthquake survivors through 3,785 sessions between 3 November 2020 and 15 December 2021.

Read below our interview:

As the second year of the pandemic is now behind us, we see that its effects are felt even more. As an association that provides psychosocial support, can you share your observations about the pandemic’s effects on public health?

We all have certain thoughts and beliefs about the world. One of the most important of these is our belief that the world is a safe place. However, because of traumatic events, natural disasters, and human-made attacks, this belief is shaken. According to our observations, the pandemic has brought up feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, stress factors, difficulties, and uncertainty.

The anxiety of contagion and the fear of death were the most intensely felt emotions and thoughts in the first months of the pandemic. In the next period, the uncertainty about when the pandemic will end has also manifested in our lives. The change in our lifestyle, financial difficulties and many more have caused emotions that turned into stress factors and some unavoidable thoughts.

Research has shown that the pandemic caused reactions similar to other traumatic events. Stress reactions are common, and when they are experienced at a certain level and duration, they are considered “normal”. Of course, their duration, severity, and decrease over time are important criteria. In our study, we saw that we have somehow adapted to the pandemic and the changing conditions over time. 

According to our observations, the pandemic has brought up feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, stress factors, difficulties, and uncertainty.

The agenda in Turkey is changing very rapidly. The pandemic, earthquakes, wildfires, floods, economic crises, femicides and humanitarian crises were just a few of the topics in the last two years. How does such an intense agenda affect the psychology of society?

Our lives are changing rapidly depending on this agenda too. We usually characterise change as positive, but some may have negative results. Even though the effects these changes have on the lives of individuals are subjective, it is obvious that they affect our lives negatively. Especially as a result of events such as natural disasters and attacks, it is almost impossible to avoid secondary trauma. Research suggests that secondary traumatic stress symptoms and primary traumatic stress symptoms are very similar. This shows us how much we are affected even if we do not directly experience a negative event.

You have recently completed the Psychological Support for Earthquake Survivors project. Can you tell us about the purpose and activities of the project?

With the project, we aimed to provide acute and long-term psychological support to people who were affected by the Aegean Sea earthquake on 30 October 2020. However, since the earthquake took place during the pandemic, we included the people affected by COVID-19 in the activities. First, we conducted a needs assessment. Then, we launched a call on social media to reach volunteer psychologists. In total, 2,460 students and colleagues applied to become volunteers.

With the project, we aimed to provide acute and long-term psychological support to people who were affected by the Aegean Sea earthquake on 30 October 2020.

We made an official application to support the fieldwork carried out under the coordination of the Ministry of Family and Social Services, the authorised institution within the scope of the Turkey Disaster Response Plan (TAMP) and signed a protocol with the Ministry’s İzmir Provincial Directorate. In addition, we collaborated with the Turkish Red Crescent, one of the authorised institutions within the framework of TAMP.

Due to the increase in COVID-19 cases, we reduced the number of experts in the field in order not to risk both the earthquake survivors in the tent areas and our volunteers. We transferred the psychological support to an online platform, which was established before the earthquake to provide remote support during the pandemic. 

We organised trainings for volunteers, and a 2-day meeting on 24-26 September to prepare a “Trauma, Disaster Action Plan”. Considering the end date of the project, we closed our support line with an announcement on social media as of November 16th, since psychological support sessions take an average of 5-8 weeks.

How has the grant you received from the İzmir Earthquake Emergency Support Fund contributed to your association and your work? Do you have a message you want to share with our donors who support the fund?

With this project, we reached the highest number of people supported by the largest volunteer network. A total of 344 psychologists voluntarily provided psychological support to 2,315 earthquake survivors. Trainings were given to 2,608 psychologists in 26 separate sessions. Thanks to these trainings, we expanded our pool of trained volunteers for future disasters and crises. 11 experts organised 98 supervision group sessions and 8 self-care group sessions for the volunteers.

Between 3 November 2020 and 15 December 2021, a total of 3,785 sessions were held with 2,315 earthquake survivors.

Although we had experience as the TPD Trauma, Disaster and Crisis Unit regarding earthquakes, this was our first online earthquake activity during the pandemic. The “Trauma, Disaster Action Plan Study”, which we conducted to update the existing action plans, was an important output and will be a valuable guide and resource for future studies.

We received valuable and meaningful feedback and messages from the beneficiaries. These messages were firstly meant for our volunteers, for the TPD Izmir Branch Trauma, Disaster and Crisis Unit Coordination team, the Support Foundation for Civil Society and Turkey Mozaik Foundation, which allowed us to conduct such a project.

What will be your priorities for the year 2022? Can you tell us about your plans?

Our association has six separate sub-units. These are the Trauma, Disaster and Crisis Unit, the LGBTIQ Unitthe Couple and Family Studies Unitthe Occupational Personnel Rights Unitthe Sport and Exercise Psychology Unitthe Psychology Students Unitthe Child and Adolescent Studies Unit, and the Women and Gender Studies Unit. Due to natural disasters and the pandemic, the most active unit in the 2020-2022 working year was the Trauma, Disaster and Crisis Unit. 

We continue to plan joint projects with various associations and institutions and search for new projects within the scope of the activities of the units. When we look at this project’s outputs, we see that it was quite effective and productive. Now we want to make further project-based progress and implement the work we have planned with the support of CSOs. One of our goals is to develop projects for the work we plan for children and women.

We are planning to hold the 4th Trauma Symposium in 2022, since we couldn’t last year due to the pandemic and the busy schedule of the Trauma, Disaster and Crisis Unit. We are preparing a guide to be published based on the “Trauma, Disaster Action Plan” we prepared as part of the project. In addition, one of our current issues is the law of occupation study carried out by the Occupational Personnel Rights Unit. We hold informative activities and meetings for the approval of our draft law. In short, we can already say that a busy year awaits us.

About TPD

TPD İzmir Branch was established to protect the professional rights of psychologists and to promote and develop the science and profession of psychology in Turkey by providing unity and solidarity among psychologists.