Working in Post Katrina New Orleans

New Orleans Birmingham Psychoanalytic Center
New Orleans Birmingham Psychoanalytic Center

It was my privilege to have been invited to join the Far Fund Project, a New Orleans based program operating under the auspices of the New Orleans Birmingham Psychoanalytic Center, exploring Hurricane Katrina’s effects on the therapeutic community. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster of the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina, there is intense media attention and everyone clamors to get involved; outsiders flood the area offering help that is sometimes more and sometimes less useful, even as clinicians who are immediately impacted struggle to maintain some continuity with their own professional responsibilities.

In the end, however, the spotlight moves on and the local clinicians are left to their own resources. The website we constructed as our legacy to other communities that have been struck by disaster,, describes the program designed to meet the needs of mental health professionals facing the challenging task of helping their patients recover from Hurricane Katrina, while simultaneously dealing with its effects on their own lives. We learned many lessons in the course of that work, those lessons are summarized on the website:

I Don’t Want This Knowledge describes the early impact of the storm on this community.

Several professional articles describe this project:

Reports from the Front: The Effects of Hurricane Katrina on Mental Health Professionals in New Orleans. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 23: 15-30, includes experiential reports from area clinicians, with essays from Kathy Nathan, Ph.D., Linda Floyd, Ph.D., Elsa Pool, Ph.D. and Deborah Poitevant, LCSW, describing their early struggles to maintain continuity in their clinical work, only to realize that the personal is also the professional in the aftermath of a disaster of this magnitude.

Fearful Symmetry: Shared Trauma in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 23:31-44, addresses the complex dynamics that emerge when clinician and patient have survived identical or very similar disasters.

No K and Katrina Brain: Lessons Learned from the Therapists of New Orleans about Living and Working in a Devastated Community. Division/Review, No.8 Summer 2013, 5-6. In a more personal essay, I bring the perspective of my work in New Orleans to bear on the situation in the greater New York area after Hurricane Sandy struck in late 2012.

Some Dark Reality: A community develops skills to cope with shared trauma. In Alpert, J. and Goren,L.,Eds., Psychoanalysis, Trauma and Community: History and Contemporary Reappraisals, London and New York, Routledge This is a more concise account of my work with the community of psychotherapists in post Katrina New Orleans.

Finding Meaning in Hurricane Harvey: Response to Ponder and Goodwin, The International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies forthcoming. I was asked to respond to papers written very shortly after Hurricane Harvey. This gave me a chance to explore in depth with two survivors of Harvey how to work with immediate post hurricane reactions.

A seventeen minute documentary, made for educational purposes, shows local clinicians describing their personal and professional experiences during and after Hurricane Katrina: Shared Trauma: Psychotherapy in New Orleans After Hurricane Katrina. The film is also available free of charge from The FAR Fund. To obtain a free copy email: This film can also be viewed in the PEPWeb video series.