Stacy Overton

Stacy Overton

Roles, Responsibilities and Self-Care of Crisis Responders: Stacy Overton

Roles, Responsibilities and Self-Care of Crisis Responders: Stacy Overton Program Transcript


STACY OVERTON: Hi, my name is Dr. Stacy Overton and I wanted to share a little bit about my own personal experience as a disaster and crisis responder. My career actually started off in the early ’80s where I saw an ad in our local newspaper to respond with the Sheriff’s department for domestic violence calls as well as sexual trauma. It seemed really interesting to me. and growing up my family had always done a lot of volunteer work in the community, so I thought that was a way I could give back.

I ended up going the training and responded with the Sheriff’s department for quite some time. That’s where I really found my love for crisis and disaster response and have threaded it through my career. Since then, I worked at a women’s crisis center for many years. And we– again, in the field of domestic violence and sexual trauma where I was a counselor there. That was before we had to be licensed in the state that I lived in.

I went on to get my master’s degree in counseling, and again focused on disaster and crisis response, and secured a job at our community mental health center. There I did not do traditional therapy, but I worked on a team and eventually became the clinical supervisor for folks who were in crisis or needed walk-in services. So I really liked that model and felt that it could even be sometimes more helpful than therapy. When somebody needed to talk, they were able to walk in and have an evaluation and speak with somebody immediately.

Towards the end of my doctoral degree, I was volunteering for the American Red Cross and had the opportunity to respond to Hurricane Katrina. While I was there, I was the assistant mental health manager for the entire disaster of Hurricane Katrina. So that’s where I really got my feet wet in a large disaster, and again I just really enjoyed it.

But since then I’ve done quite a few large fire responses, flood responses, and a lot of local responses through the American Red Cross. I was also asked to be a national trainer for their military– psychological first aid to military families. So I had the opportunity to go to Washington, DC, and go through training. And I’m one of their national trainers for that program.

After Hurricane Katrina and after I graduated with my doctorate degree, I worked at a medical hospital for a lot of years. And in that capacity, we did all kinds of trauma and crisis response within the hospital as well as the emergency room. So I think if you realize that you love that type of work, there’s lots of opportunities. You just have to go out and find them.

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Roles, Responsibilities and Self-Care of Crisis Responders: Stacy Overton

As far as skills for disaster and crisis response that would be different than traditional therapy, I think the most important ones are creativity and flexibility. I can give a great example of when I responded to Hurricane Katrina as far as creativity and flexibility. There were a lot of people that were being housed at the Superdome in Louisiana.

And the first thing I did when I went in there, because I went in to check on staff was to take off my therapy vest. So I didn’t announce myself as a mental health professional. And staff that indicated there was one gentleman who was very elderly who they were very concerned about. So I tracked him down. And he was sitting on a cot.

Everybody had sort of made their own little area to try to be like home. And he was watching a little tiny television with rabbit ears and it was fuzzy, but he was watching a football game. I happened to grow up in Nebraska so I love football. So instead of wearing a mental health hat, what I did was I sat down and asked if he wouldn’t mind if I watched some of the football game with him

So I sat there for awhile. And eventually you just started chatting with him and asked what happened, and never really said, hey, I’m a mental health professional, but just let him know I was there to support him. And he shared some really amazing things about how they had lost their home.

He had lost his home that had been in his family for over three generations as well as everything in it. So didn’t know where his family was and it was just a really tragic scenario. But if I had sat down and said, hey, I’m a mental health professional, I’m not sure if this gentleman would have talked to me at all. So it’s important to be creative and flexible in those situations.

Compassion fatigue is something that comes up for anyone who works in our field. And one example that I had was actually when I returned from Hurricane Katrina, our community offered a lot of accolades. And when I got home, it was very similar, I suspect, to a possible military deployment.

What I experienced was the horror and intensity of the disaster and then coming home to sort of mundane daily life, it was sort of an out-of-body experience where I couldn’t imagine that people could possibly understand what the folks who had been displaced or had lost loved ones were going through in Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi. So that was on my mind. And I had a really hard time talking about it or trying to communicate what it was like. So I remember making some choices as far as not sharing a lot of information with people, but also really amping up my self care.

One of the things that I think has kept me in the field for this long is self care. I think it’s so important to out self care in the same realm of importance as anything else in your daily life. I exercise. I spend time with friends and family. I

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Roles, Responsibilities and Self-Care of Crisis Responders: Stacy Overton

spend time with my dogs. And to me it’s just as important as teaching, work, and all of the others that you have in your daily life.

Legal and ethical concerns that come up with disaster response– I think probably the biggest one is confidentiality. When you’re in a shelter or you’re on site in a large disaster, there’s lots of people around and lots of interruptions and so it is kind of hard to keep confidential information. The other thing that’s kind of hard is if you’re volunteering within your community, you’re likely going to see a lot of people you know or you may know something about them outside of the disaster response.

So it’s really important to be aware of confidentiality in a large area with lots of people around and find out what the local requirements are through your Red Cross or your disaster response team or in regards to that. So that’s been my experience with disaster response. I really enjoy it. And I’m really excited to teach it and hope that all of you can get out there and try it.


Roles, Responsibilities and Self-Care of Crisis Responders: Stacy Overton Additional Content Attribution

FOOTAGE: GettyLicense_494323047 (Volunteer) Credit: [Ariel Skelley]/[Blend Images]/Getty Images

GettyLicense_485582766 (Abused woman) Credit: KatarzynaBialasiewicz / iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

GettyLicense_183846547 (Scared woman) Credit: [the4js]/[E+]/Getty Images

31875 (Red Cross Disaster Relief Truck) Credit: Patsy Lynch

AAJX1A_FEMA_footage-41 (Flood Waters) Credit: Obtained with permission from FEMA

AAJX1A_FEMA_footage-56 (Flooded Car) Credit: Obtained with permission from FEMA

15091 (Medivac) Usage: Images from FEMA provided to Dennis Flowers. Producer states that these images have been cleared through RAL as Public Domain

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Roles, Responsibilities and Self-Care of Crisis Responders: Stacy Overton

14525 (Red Cross Cot) Credit: Ed Edahl

ABWJ3A-018 (Flooded home) Credit: Obtained with permission from FEMA

GettyLicense_143469123 (Soldiers) Credit: Stock Footage, Inc. / Verve+ / Getty Images

GettyLicense_463748205 (Meditate) Credit: [Alpha-C]/[iStock / Getty Images Plus]/Getty Images

MUSIC: SC_Light&Bright06_T32 and/or SC_Business01_T41 Credit: Studio Cutz

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