Currently our world is facing numerous disasters that create movement and displacement of large communities of people. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, and typhoons generate loss of life and property. As a part of any disaster there are also associated mental health problems.
Typically the psychosocial needs have been addressed by both public and private organizations that are designed to provide counseling support. Given the extent and frequency of more recent disasters, the established mental health service providers have not been able to effectively meet the need. Furthermore, many of the disasters have affected low income communities that were inhabited by people of color, requiring cross-cultural sensitivity and awareness in providing psychosocial support
Given the needs were not being met and the necessity for skilled cross-cultural counseling interventions, Counselors Without Borders was established as a non-profit organization. The first team from Counselors Without Borders went to the Gulf Coast in the USA to provide intensive counseling following Hurricane Katrina. The team was comprised of 16 people who received intensive training on disaster counseling and then went to the Gulf Coast in Mississippi. Once in Mississippi the team established relationships with Mississippi Department of Mental Health, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and was housed by the Mississippi Department of Mental Health. Counselors Without Borders worked in 6 Relief Centers and communities along with Gulf Coast, and provided counseling for over 800 people. Counseling support emphasized low income communities comprised of African American, Vietnamese, and European American citizens. The team worked during the days in the field and every night received intensive 2-3 hour supervision regarding their counseling that day.
Similar to the work after Hurricane Katrina, the San Diego wildfires destroyed large portions of San Diego County. After hearing that the migrant Latino/Latina communities and Native American Indian reservations were experiencing high levels of stress and not receiving adequate counseling support or culturally sensitive counseling support, Counselors Without Borders decided to bring a team to provide culturally responsive counseling services. In collaboration with colleagues from San Diego developed a team of 22 culturally diverse individuals. The team worked with migrant communities and with permission of the Tribal Council, on reservations. The work involved establishing points of contact on-site in specific settings where community members could come for counseling and support, as well as outreach where team members walked the communities, knocking on doors, and providing psychosocial support for community members. The teams also provided support in schools, in Head Start programs, in community agencies, and for staff and administrators from schools and community agencies.
We continue to provide services where needed. The founder of Counselors Without Borders, Dr. Fred Bemak, along with Dr. Rita Chi-Ying Chung, provided intensive national counseling training for Save the Children Alliance staff working in Myanmar (Burma) after Cyclone Nargis in 2008. Dr. Fred Bemak also co-hosted and sponsored a global conference on unaccompanied and separated children with funding from the UNHCR, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. Dr. Rita Chi-Ying Chung spoke at the United Nations for Psychology Day in November 2008 on human trafficking and the abuse of power. Counselors Without Borders is currently exploring projects in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the United States.