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A Career in Crisis Intervention

Posted on December 10, 2010

Marleen Wong (bio) discusses her work in crisis intervention.


Now with respect to my crisis intervention career, that really began in 1984 with the sniper shooting at 49th Street Elementary School. It was one of the first school shootings in the United States. In 1984 no one could ever imagine that someone would, that children would be targets of a terrorist attack and this was a domestic terrorist attack.

There was no safety plan then. There was no such thing as a school shooting. Nobody understood what PTSD was among children and in 1984 there was a great deal of controversy about whether children could really experience the full effects of post traumatic stress disorder.

So that began here in Los Angeles, our learning about childhood trauma and very significantly with the contributions of Dr. Robert Pynoos, we began on a journey about learning about children as witnesses to violence and how they could be deeply affected and could indeed be victims of PTSD.

But my path in terms of a career also took shape during the 1992 riots here in Los Angeles in which FEMA for the first time decided that the city and county could be eligible for crisis counseling funding.

Events often drive a career. I mean certainly I did not think of myself as a crisis intervention person. I wanted to work in schools because I wanted to be a social worker in schools. But after the riots I was named the Director of Mental Health for L.A. Unified and in 1995 the Oklahoma bombing occurred.

And when I tell you that if the federal government wants to find you, they will find you. Because I had had no contact with the federal government really except through these grants. And I received a phone call from the U.S. Department of Education saying that they wanted me to come to Oklahoma City to take a look at the situation there to help the superintendent. It was Dr. Mason who was the superintendent then, to help her to assess the situation in the schools and to create a recovery program for the children and for the staff.

So and then after New York City I was in New York City after 9/11, been to many, many of the school shootings to be a consultant, Columbine, Red Lake Minnesota, Springfield Oregon, and many others. And so it's interesting to me how I really never thought that this was the way that my career would take shape but now I'm a subject matter expert for the federal government around areas of child trauma after terrorist attacks.

So it's surprising to me because I think when one does this kind of work it's what's in front of you at the time that you're really focused on what would be helpful to the people who have suffered so greatly. What can we do together? What do I need to know from them? And to always remember that it is their event, it is not mine.

It is not my work. It is our work together and their work ultimately. So I feel very grateful for this that I've had the opportunity to work with so many wonderful people across the country who are now my friends and colleagues forever because we have lived through the aftermath of these tragic, historical events in history, in the United States.

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Excerpted from an interview with the contributor in Los Angeles in June, 2010.


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