Psychology professor’s book on disaster mental health is published

NEW PALTZ — Dr. James Halpern, professor of psychology and the director of the Institute for Disaster Mental Health at the State University of New York at New Paltz, has co-authored a book, “Disaster Mental Health: Theory and Practice,” with Mary Tramontin. The book covers the psychology of disasters, and discusses how to assist those impacted by such dramatic, life-changing events.

According to Halpern, the book’s primary aim is to support and empower mental health practitioners and students who will be working in the trenches of disasters’ aftermath.

“An ancillary goal is to arm disaster responders, who are not mental health specialists, with sufficient knowledge to consider the role of mental health and how it might be helpful,” said Halpern, who founded the Institute for Disaster Mental Health at New Paltz ( “The book is intended to be a tool in disaster preparedness and planning. A broader goal is to further legitimize the still-developing field of disaster mental health by offering a synthesis of trends, discoveries and related concepts.”

Halpern said the book presents a theoretical integration and context for what disaster mental health is and what it is not. It also presents the range of mental health interventions in the wake of disaster. These interventions are discussed in a practical manner so that readers may obtain and develop additional skills.

Together, Halpern and Tramontin were part of the Disaster Mental Health Services Function of the American Red Cross Chapter in New York City. As such they were among the first mental health professionals to offer support on September 11, 2001.

They have both participated in multiple disasters of different scope, intensity, magnitude and meaning in different parts of the country. They have been in the unique position to bear witness to the effects of cataclysmic moments on those involved, and have been present to help, and shape, the healing process.

Halpern is also the chair of the Disaster Mental Health Services Function of the Ulster County chapter of the American Red Cross.