Increasing Disaster and Trauma Counseling Capacity Across Southeast Asia: An International Research Project Funded by UBD and Lead by UBD Academic Staff, Professor Louis Downs, PhD



April first, 2013, saw the approval of a grant written by Louis Downs to support an international team with a startup grant from UBD.  Locally, the team consisted of Drs. Koay Teng Leong, Hjh Salwa Dato Hj Mahalle, Lawrence Simasiku Mundia and a doctoral student, Pengiran Seti Aminah bte Pengiran Othman.  The original team consisted of several counseling scholars from other Southeast Asian countries.  These included Dr. Syamsu Yusuf LN and Ahmad Ali Rahmadian from Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia, Theophanny Rampisela from Pattimura University, Maluku, Indonesia, Dr. Nanta Sooraksa of the National Institute of Development Administration of Thailand, Dr. Yong Eel Lin of the Advent Hospital and Dr. Nor Shafrin Ahmad of Universiti Sains Malaysia, both from Penang, and Zhenghui from Xiamen City University in Fujian Province, China. 

                The ultimate goal has been to research and develop trauma and disaster mental health teams.  Toward that ultimate goal, the project was planned to create an instrument for measuring trauma related stress that is more sensitive than present instruments and to use collection of data in disaster prone zones as a pretext for cementing working relationships for a larger project of developing and training trauma teams and affecting policy in relation to disasters in the Ring of Fire and beyond, across Asia. 

                As the initial granted project draws toward its close, the goals of both the grant and the project have been substantially realized.  Research teams were trained in Sumatra, West Java and Southern China, and data were gathered along the west coast of Sumatra and Western Java in hard-hit tsunami, typhoon and earthquake communities.  The instrument that was developed for the project, the Downs Posttraumatic Stress Scale, has been tested with a Chronbach’s Alpha with a reliability of r=.94, thus far the most internally consistent instrument in the field of trauma psychology.  The sample population from which the data were collected numbered 1086 participants from 6 separate communities.  

The first of several manuscripts is underway, and ultimately the authors anticipate at least 5 separate articles for journal submission.   These will include the validity and reliability study of the instrument; prevalence of posttraumatic stress and diagnostic thresholds of survivors of disasters; the relationship between frequency and intensity of symptoms in the sample population; a factor analysis of gender, culture, type of traumatic events and their relationships to posttraumatic symptoms; and, finally, the first study in the comparison of diagnosability between the newly published Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, Edition 5, and the past edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, Edition 4.

                Beyond this success, however, is the more important result, that the international team has been solidified and teams trained to continue research in a broader area than Sumatra and Java.  Personnel has shifted and changed, as is expected in a pilot project.  The original team consisted of a scholar from Ambon in the Maluku archipelago, and another from Thailand – a projected field study site.  After these two scholars and sites dropped away from the initial team, a partnership was nurtured with scholars from Sekolah Tinggi Agama Islam Negari (STAIN University) in Batusangkar, Sumatra.  The resultant additions to the team include soon to be Dr. Masril and Dr. Suswati Hendriani.  Also, from UBD, as others have turned their attention to other pursuits, Dr. David Sun Xiaoqian has joined the team. 

We are presently finishing the project and the publications and beginning to look for further funding to expand the project with hopes of developing trauma and disaster teams. 

A few important developments have taken place in partnering countries because of the developed research collaborations, all of them outside of the UBD grant funding support.  First, Dr. Downs has traveled to Malaysia twice in 2013 at the invitation of two separate entities to train counselors regarding crisis, disaster and trauma interventions.  The national counseling association of Malaysia (PERKAMA) held a 3-day workshop for professional counselors featuring Louis Downs.  Also, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development sponsored a national conference on crisis and disaster intervention with Louis as the keynote and plenary speaker.  He has since been invited to train the recently planned national women’s crisis teams for crisis interventions.  The most central partnership developed during this project, the Counseling Program at Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia, has been submitted a proposal to the UPI Chancellor’s office. The proposal is to develop a community trauma-counseling center.  Finally, the counseling department at International Islamic University of Malaysia has opened discussions regarding becoming a partner in any future project activities.