Professional associations’ responses to Orlando mass shooting

Photo courtesy Orlando PDThe aftermath of a tragedy is perhaps when the public needs professional associations in mental health the most. These groups can speak from their collective knowledge and wisdom about how to best cope with the trauma and find meaningful ways to contribute. Here are the major US mental health professional associations’ responses to this week’s mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, where 49 were killed and 53 others wounded.

The statements linked below raise some interesting questions about what the associations’ role should be in response to such an attack, and what kinds of statements are appropriate. Should mental health professional associations respond to major national events in this way? When they do, who is the intended audience — their members, or the public? What are the associations hoping to achieve? As you’ll see, some focused their attention on condolences, others on providing information and resources to the public. NASW gave significant attention to the issue of gun violence, advancing a specific policy agenda.

As I wrote in Saving Psychotherapy, the associations have a valuable role to play in informing the public about mental health and psychology based on the collective expertise of each profession. I would even argue that the communities around us have a right to expect that of us, as part of the larger social exchange that gives us status as professionals. But unless they have something tangible to offer the public, by responding to events like the Orlando shooting, the associations can run the risk of appearing as though they are using tragedy simply to promote themselves and their members. It’s a tough line to walk.

Here are links and pulled quotes from each of their statements in response to the attack. For each, I’ve also noted (1) whether they offered any meaningful resources for public visitors to their web site; (2) whether they noted that the attack was an apparent act of terrorism; and (3) whether they noted that the attack targeted the LGBT community.

American Psychological Association

“APA has long been a leader in advancing a scientific perspective on improving the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. APA commemorates LGBT Pride Month in June by highlighting relevant historical notes and APA resources. This year is no different, but now sadly must include an acknowledgement of the terrible mass shooting at a gay dance club on Latin Night in Orlando early Sunday morning, June 12, and a report on APA’s response in the immediate aftermath.

“By Sunday afternoon, June 12, the APA prepared and sent a media advisory to an in house list of over 500 reporters who cover psychology highlighting the report ‘Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention, and Policy’ and offering a list of psychologists with expertise in terrorist events and mass shootings. The APA homepage was updated to send visitors to resources related to coping with such tragedies.”

The APA full statement can be read here. It includes links to the other documents noted.

Resources offered to the public? Yes
Mention of terrorism? Indirect
Mention that attack targeted LGBT community? Yes

American Psychiatric Association

“We are deeply saddened by the senseless violence in Orlando this weekend. The notion that the potential motive for targeting the patrons of this nightclub was because of their sexual orientation is disturbing. Regrettably, the carnage in Orlando is all too familiar and reminds of similar incidents in Newtown, Ct.; Blacksburg, Va.; and San Bernardino, Ca.; and too many other places in America. We offer our deepest sympathy and condolences to the victims and their families. The APA is a healing organization and our members will be there to help the community of Orlando heal.”

The APA full statement can be read here.

Resources offered to the public? No
Mention of terrorism? No
Mention that attack targeted LGBT community? Yes

American Counseling Association

“The American Counseling Association (ACA) wishes to convey our deepest sympathies to those who have been harmed in the Orlando shooting this weekend, friends and family who have lost someone, and the community affected by this tragedy. ACA President Thelma Duffey said: ‘The effects of a tragedy of this magnitude can have a profound impact on people throughout the country and the world.'”

The ACA full statement can be read here.

Resources offered to the public? No
Mention of terrorism? No
Mention that attack targeted LGBT community? Indirect

National Association of Social Workers

“A gunman killed 49 people and injured more than 50 at Pulse, an Orlando nightclub that serves a predominately LGBTQ clientele. Most of the victims were also Latino. Compounding such a horrific loss of life is the fact the man who committed the murders may have been motivated by a complex mix of ISIL-inspired terrorism, anger toward American culture, bigotry, homophobia and internalized self-hatred because he may have had gay tendencies. He also had legal access to assault weapons with high capacity magazines. All of this formed a lethal combination. […] This tragedy should be seen as both terrorism and a hate crime, just as the mass murder of nine black members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina was a hate crime.”

The NASW full statement can be read here.

Resources offered to the public? No
Mention of terrorism? Yes
Mention that attack targeted LGBT community? Yes

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy

“On behalf of the AAMFT Board of Directors and Staff, our thoughts are with those in Orlando who were impacted by this weekend’s tragic mass shooting, particularly those coping with the loss of a loved one and those injured. Our thanks to the first responders, including many dedicated trauma and support therapists, who are providing vital aid to those coping with the outcomes of Sunday’s attack. If you or someone you love is in need of immediate support, we encourage to contact a licensed marriage and family therapist in your area.”

The AAMFT full statement can be read here.

Resources offered to the public? No
Mention of terrorism? No
Mention that attack targeted LGBT community? No