Feature Article

In the service of others

The president reflects on the role of school psychologists in the wake of recent natural disasters and tragedies and the importance of psychologists' self-care.

By Vincent C. Alfonso
As I was writing this column for The School Psychologist, I realized that it was the six-month anniversary of the tragic mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Although that day will never be forgotten, it is uncanny how that event and all those directly affected by it slip our minds from time to time. 

In the past eight months we have witnessed severe natural disasters across the country including Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast and devastating tornadoes in the Midwest. Around the world there are multiple wars taking place where innocent lives are lost including those of very young children. Families are being uprooted each day as civil wars in the Middle East and the African continent continue with almost no end in sight. 

There are days and nights when I wonder what is next. What will the next controllable and uncontrollable disasters be and who will be affected? How will I respond personally and professionally? What is my responsibility to my city, region, country and the international community? I am sure that many, if not all of you, reflect on these and other questions on a regular basis. 

I am sure that with all these negative events surrounding us and perhaps directly affecting us, it is, at times, very difficult to remain positive. However, perhaps now more than ever we are needed to provide services to children, adolescents and their families. Our training programs have prepared us well to provide individuals in schools and other settings with a variety of services including, but not limited to, assessment, counseling, consultation and crisis intervention. I have no doubt that well-trained, self-reflecting and compassionate school psychologists can make a difference in the lives of those who suffer greatly from tragic events such as those mentioned above to those who struggle on a day-to-day basis with whatever compromises their learning and personal development. 

In some ways, these are the worst of times and the best of times for school psychologists. We are faced with daunting problems each day and yet this is the perfect time for us to shine a beacon of light when none seems to be in sight. The effect that our presence and assistance can have on children, adolescents and families is limitless. 

And although we should be proud of what we do and who we serve, we must not forget to care for ourselves. I believe that self-care among professionals is critically important in order for us to continue to be helpful in our society. All too often we read or hear about “burn out” or decreasing motivation because our fuel tanks are on “E.” Self-care, professional consultation with colleagues, engaging in hobbies, and spending time with friends and family members are some activities that can refuel us and prepare us to provide the services that are needed more and more. 

A good friend of mine reminds me often of what flight attendants tell us prior to taking off. I am sure you have heard many times that if oxygen masks should be released during a flight, first put on your own mask before you put on the masks of children and the elderly. Indeed, we are no good to anyone else if we do not take care of ourselves first.