After the Tsunami: Professors to provide mental health training in Indonesia


BLACKSBURG, Va., Jan. 27, 2005 – Two professors from the Department of Human Development in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech will be going to Atma Jaya University, in Jakarta, Indonesia, in early February to provide training in psychosocial interventions to psychologists, social workers, and volunteers who are tending to families in the wake of the tsunami devastation.

In a place where "family" is such an intrinsic part of the culture, Fred Piercy and Margaret Keeling, both family therapy professors, will team up to train the therapists to fashion culturally sensitive interventions for families and children.

Irwanto (who, like many Indonesians, has only one name), director of the Atma Jaya Research Center, is anxious to provide "community action support" in which "children and families are the center of our attention."

Piercy has been to Indonesia many times for his work on HIV, drug abuse research, and prevention projects. Piercy, also the department head for the department of human development, said it will be important for mental health workers to learn that some symptoms are normal, given what people have been through. He and Keeling also emphasize that it will be important to make use of cultural and religious rituals to support the healing process. It also will be important to help workers learn what they can do to help other disaster workers identify and work through compassion fatigue, as many have experienced their own trauma.

"In a culture where family is so intrinsic, and after a disaster that has left so few families intact, we plan to work with our participants on ways to bring communities together and make use of their strengths," Piercy said. "We also hope to plan with local experts to develop a sustainable program of support for the future, since peoples' needs will be great in the days ahead."

Keeling lived in a remote, undeveloped province on Indonesia, formerly known as Irian Jaya, now Papua, for nine years. A first-year faculty member, Keeling said, "When I was hired, I was expecting to do international work; I just didn't expect it to do it so soon."

Piercy and Keeling will be flying to Indonesia on Feb.3 and 4, respectively. Both are brushing up on their Indonesian language skills, translating their workshop materials, and according to Keeling, "trying to think in Indonesian again."

Piercy and Keeling are being sponsored by a variety of university and community organizations, both here and in Indonesia, including Atma Jaya University, a Jakarta psychological association, Virginia Tech's Office of Outreach and International Affairs, the Office of the Vice President for Research, the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and Blacksburg Presbyterian Church.