Cognitive-behavioral psychology: Implications for disaster and terrorism response

Josef I. Ruzek, Robyn D. Walser, Amy E. Naugle, Brett Litz, Douglas S. Mennin, Melissa A. Polusny, Dianna M. Ronell, Kenneth J. Ruggiero, Rachel Yehuda, Joseph R. Scotti

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Given the personal and societal costs associated with acute impairment and enduring post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the mental health response to disasters is an integral component of disaster response planning. The purpose of this paper is to explore the compatibility between cognitive-behavioral psychology and the disaster mental health model, and explicate how cognitivebehavioral perspectives and intervention methods can enhance the effectiveness of disaster mental health services. It is argued that cognitive-behavioral methods, if matched to the contexts of the disaster and the needs of individuals, will improve efforts to prevent the development of PTSD and other trauma-related problems in survivors of disaster or terrorist events. First, the similarities between models of care underlying both disaster mental health services and cognitive-behavioral therapies are described. Second, examples of prior cognitive-behavioral therapy-informed work with persons exposed to disaster and terrorism are provided, potential cognitive-behavioral therapy applications to disaster and terrorism are explored, and implications of cognitive-behavioral therapy for common challenges in disaster mental health is discussed. Finally, steps that can be taken to integrate cognitive-behavioral therapy into disaster mental health are outlined. The aim is to prompt disaster mental health agencies and workers to consider using cognitive-behavioral therapy to improve services and training, and to motivate cognitive-behavioral researchers and practitioners to develop and support disaster mental health response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)397-410
Number of pages14
JournalPrehospital and Disaster Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2008


  • cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • disaster mental health
  • disaster response planning
  • immediate response
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • psychotherapy integration
  • terrorism
  • trauma


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