TPD provides psychosocial support to Izmir Earthquake survivors

Turkish Psychologists Association is one of our 2018 grantees and their Izmir branch is now a grantee of our Izmir Earthquake Emergency Fund.  With this project, TPD İzmir Branch aims to provide acute and long-term psychological support to people who have been directly or indirectly affected by the earthquake. Firstly,  psychosocial support activities will be carried out in the tent/ container areas in the first month in accordance with the requirements of the acute period. An analysis will be carried out to determine the needs for long-term support and 48  psychologists will be trained on trauma intervention techniques.  During the remaining 11 months of the project, TPD İzmir branch will provide therapeutic support to people who experience post-traumatic stress symptoms. Including the acute phase, a  total of 2.400 people will benefit from psychological support provided by the association.  

Can you tell us about the aim and activities of the Turkish Psychologists Association (Türk Psikologlar Derneği – TPD) and the İzmir Branch?

The Turkish Psychologists Association started its activities in 1976 in Ankara. TPD Izmir Branch has worked in the Aegean region since 1989. TPD’s work is based on the promotion and development of psychology as a scientific area and as a profession as well as the protection of psychologists’ professional rights by ensuring solidarity between them. TPD aims to benefit the whole society through psychological studies with a rights-based approach and without any discrimination. Thus, TPD plans to increase the contributions of psychology in various areas of society such as health, education, justice, and industry.

TPD carries out two types of activities: activities for psychology professionals and for the benefit of society. Conducting advocacy activities for the protection of professional rights and organising scientific meetings and congresses are some examples of the organisation’s professional activities. The association carries out two kinds of activities for the benefit of society: protective-preventive and intervention activities. Public conferences, panels, and training programs are examples of preventive and protective activities and joint studies are implemented with other civil society organisations. Within the scope of intervention studies are psychological services and counselling provided to people and groups in need of mental health support. Psychosocial support provided to people affected by the earthquake is also included in the scope of our intervention efforts.

Based on your experiences in the field, what can you tell us about the effects of traumas experienced after social unrest and disasters and the importance of psychological interventions in such situations?

Traumatic experiences as a result of natural disasters and social events include intense feelings of loss and stress and can affect individuals and societies differently. The physical injuries, fear of death, death of relatives, and loss of property are the most traumatising aspects of such events.

In the intervention studies after disasters, mental health workers primarily aim to classify the cases according to their urgency (triage), support and soothe the affected people and provide “psychological first aid” instead of performing trauma therapy. Social solidarity becomes an important source of support for individuals. It supports individuals to mobilise or strengthen their existing coping mechanisms to deal with the situation they are exposed to or witnessed. We know that after traumatic experiences, some of us can overcome the situation with our own resources but others may need external support.

Can you tell us about the purpose of “Psychosocial Support Hotline for the Post-Earthquake and Covid-19 Processes” and your work within the scope of this study?

We started our work as of the evening of 30 October 2020, the day of the earthquake. Firstly, we worked on a plan on determining the needs with our experienced colleagues who were engaged in psychosocial support work around Turkey after earthquakes in the past years. As of November 1st, we made a call for volunteers through social media for psychosocial support work and we ended our call on November 8th due to the high number of applications. In total, 2,460 psychology students and colleagues applied to volunteer. 

We started to visit the tent areas as volunteers of the Turkish Psychological Association Izmir Trauma Unit on November 3. With a total of 71 volunteers, we continued to provide support in 6 different tent areas through both individual interviews and psychological first aid group activities until November 13th. After that date, we stopped the field activities due to the increased risk of COVID-19 infection. We continued our work on the online platforms as we had already gained experience in providing online psychological support since the start of the outbreak. Since 13 November 2020, our work has continued online.

We started using the telephone line (0850 307 03 35) as a post-earthquake support hotline which we had opened at the beginning of the outbreak. We have been carrying out psychological support activities for people who are affected by the earthquake in coordination with the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Service and the Turkish Red Crescent since November 2020. We never stopped our contact with people in the tent areas. Our work is not limited to the people in these areas, we try to support everyone who is psychologically affected and/or triggered by the earthquake. 

As a result of our meetings with the Izmir Metropolitan Municipality and the Karşıyaka Municipality, they decided to contribute to the project by promoting the hotline in their own communication channels such as their social media accounts. 

Since the beginning of February 2020, we have engaged in the following activities:

  • 292 psychology students and colleagues have supported our work through volunteering. Our “Online Support Team” consists of 142 volunteers conducting interviews. 49 of our volunteers receive the incoming calls to the hotline as the “Triage Team”. There were 71 volunteers providing support in the field and now they continue to support other teams in different capacities. 27 of our volunteers work in the “Coordination Team” making sure our work continues efficiently. 
  • We ran 17 workshops for 846 people to train our colleagues and volunteers about psychosocial support activities in disasters, crises, and traumatic situations. In addition, we have organised 14 support sessions for the people in post-earthquake interventions. Most of these people worked in search and rescue teams after the earthquake.
  • We started the “Trauma Psychology” training on January 22nd which will last 8 weeks in total. We planned this training for all volunteers who stated that they wanted to provide support after an earthquake that may occur in the future.
  • A total of 46 supervision meetings were held by 9 supervisors for all our volunteer colleagues involved in these activities and these supervision group meetings continue to this day.
  • Since 30 October, we have provided psychosocial support to 1,731 people in total and conducted 2,352 interviews with them.
We are supporting TPD İzmir under our Izmir Earthquake Emergency Support Fund with the financial contributions of the Turkey Mozaik Foundation and the Kahane Foundation. How will you use this grant? In what ways, do you think it will contribute to people affected by the earthquake?

In our field, we call the first 30 days after the earthquake the acute period. In this period, we plan and implement our work according to the acute intervention program. However, with this grant, we will be able to continue our work for a period of 12 months. This way, we will continue to support people affected by the earthquake with our long-term post-traumatic intervention program after the acute period. Our aim will be to help people manage their post-traumatic stress reactions after this traumatic experience and to prevent the development of post-traumatic stress disorder in the long term. Within the scope of the project, people who reach out to us through the psychosocial support hotline attend an interview with our volunteers and then they are directed to our experienced volunteer psychologists for the online therapy sessions. 

In order to protect and support the collective mental health of the society, protecting the mental health experts and supporting them professionally are among our priorities as an association. For this reason, our supervision and self-care group work for our volunteers will also continue as part of this project. Moreover, we aim to provide more effective support to individuals affected by the earthquake by organising training programs in order to ensure that our expert volunteers are better equipped.

With this project, you aim to provide both acute and long-term psychological support to people affected by the earthquake. Why did you choose this two-layered approach as an intervention model?

Various approaches are used to help with short and long-term interventions after trauma. However, we ensure that our system is run efficiently by conducting an average of five meetings with the people affected by the earthquake in order to both use our volunteer network effectively and achieve results in a short time. The interviews that are shaped according to the needs of each client are mainly based on psycho-education and psychological first aid approaches, which have proven effective in post-traumatic interventions.

Psychological first aid generally focuses on the acute period, because it aims to help people affected by any traumatic event immediately. Although every person who has applied to this project is somehow affected by the earthquake, it is not possible to configure the content of the session in the same way for each person, as symptoms, levels of exposure, and progress vary. 

Our experts can also structure the support processes within the framework of their own competencies using Cognitive and Behavioural Therapy, Behavioural Therapy, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and considering the condition of the client. Both the acute period and the long-term psychological support process are closely followed by our experienced supervisors in the field of trauma.

This grant by the Turkey Mozaik Foundation, Kahane Foundation, and the Support Foundation for Civil Society motivated us a lot as the psychologists working in the field and as the TPD İzmir. Therefore, we would like to express our gratitude to the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services, the Izmir Metropolitan Municipality, the Karşıyaka Municipality, and the Turkish Red Crescent as well as the Support Foundation for Civil Society, the Turkey Mozaik Foundation, and the Kahane Foundation for their support along with our volunteers and colleagues.