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Review of "Helping Children Cope With Disasters and Terrorism"

By Annette M. LA Greca, Wendy K. Silverman and Eric M. Vernberg (editors)
American Psychological Association, 2002
Review by Lloyd A. Wells, Ph.D., M.D. on Dec 2nd 2002
Helping Children Cope With Disasters and Terrorism

            This lengthy book is the work of many authors, with good editorial direction from the four editors.  It addresses a great many situations in which children must face disaster; accordingly, it is a timely book.  The vast bulk of the book addresses disasters such as floods and fires, and the terrorism chapters are at the very end.

            This book is filled with findings and data, many of which have interesting and sometimes useful implications.  It derives from a policy developed in 1995 by the American Psychological Association well before the September 11 disaster.

            Saylor and DeRoma present an excellent, succinct discussion of the assessment of children and adolescents exposed to disaster, after an introductory chapter on definitions.  Vernberg then discusses approaches to intervention after disaster, and Rabalais and colleagues discuss cultural issues in relation to disasters.  This introduces the book.  The remainder is much more technical, with chapters on hurricanes and earthquakes, wilderness and wildfire disasters, floods, residential fires, toxic waste spills and nuclear accidents, mass transportation disasters, dam breaks, motor vehicle accidents, shootings and hostage takings, terrorism, war, and community violence.  The editors contribute a final chapter on future directions for research and public policy.

            To be frank, most of this book is dry reading and is occupied with tests and measures but very helpful and important tests and measures.

            There are some high points.  The introductory chapters and the summary chapter really lift the book to a high level.  There is a very useful table in the introductory chapter by Saylor and DeRoma, which lists aspects of the instruments that can be used in various disasters.  The chapter on terrorism by Gurwitch, Sitterle, Young and Pfefferbaum is really outstanding and blends various theoretical approaches into a very pragmatic approach.  The chapter on war is useful and thought-provoking, as is the chapter on community violence.  The discussion of research issues and the table about them provided in the summary chapter are outstanding, and the index is very well constructed.

            Negative aspects of this book include inevitably boring reading about various important tests and instruments that can be used, and sometimes turgid writing.

            General readers will find this book boring and too technical.  Psychologists who might need to assess children in the course of a disaster should definitely have access to it.

            It is very sad that we need this book.


© 2002 Lloyd A. Wells


Lloyd A. Wells, Ph.D., M.D., is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. He has a particular interest in philosophical issues related to psychiatry and in the logic used in psychiatric discourse.

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