Recent events in Japan and Hati (and in other countries experiencing extreme natural disasters) highlight the unfortunate need for crisis/disaster counseling. Unlike regular counseling, which involves building long-term rapport and goals through multiple sessions, disaster counseling can be an immediate response to an emergency scenario. In a way, crisis counseling is the mental health version of first aid. After a crisis has ended, the initial counseling first aid can be built off of to treat additional challenges arising from the original disaster/situation – such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Dr. David Baldwin has put together a comprehensive page on Disaster Mental Health. The goal of counselors is first and foremost (1) stabilize the victim(s) and (2) promote healthy coping strategies (Baldwin, 2011). Stability can be promoted through therapeutic listening/sessions or through more mundane non-traditional actions that are not typically seen in counseling such as (a) helping family members fill out disaster paperwork for government assistance, (b) handing out water/supplies, (c) etc.
Counselors have the ability to volunteer with local Red Cross organizations to receive training in crisis counseling, disaster management, and more. Keep in mind that being a volunteer does not necessarily mean being available for international disaster relief. You can volunteer with a local branch and help families/victims of traumatic accidents, house fires, and/or assault. Disasters vary in magnitude and type.
Just as the disasters can vary, so to are the types of people affected by disaster and the counseling skills needed to implement treatment. Baldwin’s (2011) website details handbooks and information on everything from terrorist attacks to natural disasters and family versus child/individual care.