Psychologist’s humanitarian kismet

By John Thomas, Associate Editor
March 1, 2002 - Last updated: May 31, 2011

From Kuwait’s burning oil fields to NYC’s smoldering ashes

From then burning oil fields of Kuwait to the smoldering ashes of the World Trade Center, a Maryland psychologist has found himself helping others where terrorism and other violence prevail.

In recent years, George S. Everly, Ph.D., of Annapolis, also found himself involved in the aftermath of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City and Serbian aggression in Croatia.

In between, the 51-year-old psychologist has taught at two universities, wrote and co-authored a dozen books and head the Maryland Psychological Assn., including that state’s disaster response team.

For the last decade or so, Everly has been called upon to provide strategic planning, stress management and critical incident stress debriefings in hot spots around the world.

Through the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, which he co-founded with Jeffrey R. Mitchell, Ph.D., in 1989, Everly has worked in several countries dealing with the aftermath of terrorism and disasters.

The foundation, which was recognized as a non-governmental organization in special consultive status to the United Nations in 1997, is the largest crisis response network in the world.

His first international assignment was in Kuwait following its invasion by the forces of Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

A book he had written, A Clinical Guide to the Treatment of the Human Stress Response, caught the eye of the director of the National Institute of Mental Health when Kuwait sought help in coping with its traumatized population.

“The director called me and asked if I could work with Kuwait’s social development office to set up a system of community health centers,” Everly recalled.

Working with social workers, sociologists and health care professionals, Everly helped create an emergency mental health system in Kuwait. He remains a senior advisor to the government and travels to Kuwait once a year to consult with the department. He participated in that country’s recent 10-year observation of the ouster of Iraqi forces.

“There is a constant threat of more activity from Saddam Hussein who occasionally rolls up some tanks to the border and rattles a few sabers,” Everly said.

Following his work in Kuwait, Everly went to Croatia, which was recovering from warfare, working with refugees and training counselors on how to deal with acts of terror.

A year or so later, his beeper went off two hours after the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed. There, he worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms personnel in creating peer support programs for agents.

He continued to work with federal agents during the Denver trial of Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted and later executed for the bombing of the Oklahoma City building that left 168 dead.

Four days following the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Everly was in New York working with police, fire departments and the American Red Cross, helping in strategic planning to meet the mental health needs of the city’s safety forces.

In an interview, Everly said that the events in Kuwait, Croatia and Oklahoma City had a significant effect on how he views life.

“The experience of war first-hand and being responsible for treating the aftermath of war had a major impact on me existentially. It changed my life in such a way that I certainly appreciate life more now. I guess that I appreciate each day a little bit more than I might have otherwise,” he explained.

The co-author of books on psychotraumatology (a term he is credited with inventing) and post-traumatic stress disorder teaches stress management and crisis intervention at Johns Hopkins and Loyola College in Maryland. His private practice is located at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore.

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