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Skip Navigation LinksNASP Home Publications Communiqué Volume 40, Issue 4 Appreciation for Support for Japan

Appreciation for Support for Japan in Responding to the Natural Disaster

By Toshinori Ishikuma & Hisako Nishiyama

Maiko Ikeda, Dr. Toshinori Ishikuma, and Dr. Hisako Nishiyama

Maiko Ikeda (San Diego University),
Dr. Toshinori Ishikuma (President, Japan Association of School Psychology) and Dr. Hisako Nishiyama

March 11, 2011, began the most difficult natural disaster ever experienced in Japan. Earthquakes, a massive tsunami, and multiple breaches at nuclear power plants have changed the lives of many Japanese people including children, teachers, and parents.

Throughout this difficult time, we, Japanese school psychologists and teachers, have been supported by NASP and ISPA. From the beginning, we have been so encouraged by the “Support for Japan” resources page on the NASP website!

Thanks to your support, we have done our best to support children and schools through the Japanese Association of School Psychologists (JASP). JASP consists of about 3,700 members who have the certification of school psychologist. In Japan, a formal system of school psychology has not been established and presently the title school psychologist does not describe a profession. No psychology profession has been established in Japan. However, school psychological services are delivered by teachers with educational counseling roles, special education teachers, school health teachers, and school counselors. Some of these teachers and school counselors are certified as school psychologists and lead school psychological services, while most school counselors are certified clinical psychologists (Ishikuma, 2007). Toshinori Ishikuma is the president of JASP and Hisako Nishiyama is a NASP liaison of JASP.

Right after the earthquake, when it was still difficult to connect through the Internet in Japan, Toshinori received e-mails from his mentors in the United States: Dr. Alan S. Kaufman and Drs. Carol Robinson-Zanartu, Valerie Cook-Morales, and Colette Ingraham at San Diego State University (SDSU). They asked whether he and his family were safe and he responded, “We are OK. We are going to support people in the affected areas.” This began an important outreach with school psychologists around the world. Through his SDSU contacts, Toshinori was able to reach Katherine Cowan, NASP Director of Communications, and Drs. Bill Pfohl and Shane Jimerson, international crisis intervention experts. Dr. Pfohl was both chair of the NASP National Emergency Assistance Team (NEAT) and the president of ISPA. Amazingly, Toshinori received the first consultation with him on March 15, just 4 days after the earthquake, when he still could not use water in his area, not far from the affected zone! Our connections grew to more and more supporters throughout the United States and world, such as Dr. Bernhard Meissner, with whom Dr. Pfohl connected us. Dr. Kathleen Minke, president of NASP at the time, and Dr. Pfohl both sent very warm messages to Japanese psychologists, which were included in the recent issue of the Annual Report of Japanese Association of School Psychologists. These messages reinforced that we were not alone, but were a part of a larger, caring school psychology community.

The resources, consultation, and encouragement from our NASP and ISPA friends (which continue today) have helped JASP accomplish the following actions to help children, teachers, and schools.

  1. We had an emergency meeting March 30–31, 2011, and established a JASP “Children and School Support Team for the Eastern Japan Disaster.” This team includes prefectural [county] JASP leaders in the affected areas such as Miyagi, Fukushima, Iwate, Ibaraki, and Chiba, and experts in crisis intervention such as Dr. Yozo Takino, as well as the leaders of JASP. We started a consultation and support system for the leaders in the affected areas through e-mails, phones, and meetings. We held regular meetings about every 2 months. We have kept building on lessons learned-based consultation with Dr. Pfohl, which eventually will become a Japanese manual for crisis response. To maintain our activities, we have collected funds from members of JASP and related associations which, as of October 20, 2011, amounted to approximately $28,200.
  2. We translated and adapted NASP materials for Japanese teachers and parents. It was very powerful that we had three strong translation teams: the SDSU team (Maiko Ikeda, Ayako Christine Ikeda, and Miki Kihara); the UCSB team (Elina Saeki, Dr. Yayoi Watanabe, with Dr. Shane Jimerson as supervisor); and a third team in Japan who reviewed the translated materials in detail for both language use and cultural accuracy (Hisako Nishiyama, Yozo Takino, and Toshinori Ishikuma). We appreciate their efforts and sensitivity to translate the materials and adjust them for Japanese culture. These resources are posted on the NASP and JASP websites. Also, JASP compiled these materials into a booklet that has been sent to schools and educational bureaus in the affected areas, and has provided much helpful guidance to teachers and parents.
  3. We have supported, both financially and through consultation, the Sakura Support Team, which visits schools in Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture, one of the most affected areas. The team, established and led by Ms. Miyoko Ozawa, a retired professor of school psychology at Chiba University, consists of school psychologists, retired teachers, and university students. They have visited the schools Monday through Wednesday every week since April 4th. They started their work as volunteers doing whatever needed to be done (including cleaning the school library) and, as they were accepted by teachers at schools, they started to provide support to students and teachers. There is only one team, but it has tried to create the model for how school psychologists from outside of the schools can help children and teachers in the schools.
  4. We have made significant progress in connecting Japanese school psychologists to local and national governments. Historically, it has been mainly clinical psychologists whom government offices depend on when sending counselors to schools. However, because of JASP's efforts to contact officials that included visits to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) and sending NASP/JASP materials to local and national governments, we are now being offered the task to do the crisis workshops for prefectures such as Miyagi. Also the MEXT asked us to send a list of school psychologists when they decided to hire special crisis counselors and extra teachers for the affected areas. Importantly, in September, the Student Affairs Division of the MEXT established a “Team for Planning the Response to Support Children in the Affected Areas” consisting of three professionals: a psychiatrist, a clinical psychologist, and a school psychologist! Toshinori was named as the school psychologist for the team, which visits the affected zones to do workshops and consult with teachers. The goal is to improve the ability of school staff to meet the needs of affected students and families and to respond to crises in the future. Of course, Toshinori gives the NASP/JASP materials to workshop attendees who appreciate the information very much. Because these workshops and consultation have met the needs of the teachers well, JASP has been asked to send a list of consultants to the MEXT. This is huge progress in the role and recognition of the importance of school psychologists in Japan.
  5. We have done symposia at national conferences. First, “What School Psychologists Can Do for Children and Schools in the Crisis in the East Japan Natural Disaster” was held at the conference of the Japanese Association of Educational Psychology, Hokkaido, in July. Second, “Crisis Response and the Roles of School Psychologists” was held at the JASP annual convention, Osaka, in August. Third, “What Is Important in Supporting Children and Teachers in the Affected Areas: Toward Preparing the Manual for Crisis” was held at the JASP conference, Nagano, in October. Mr. Seiichi Ohno, Secretary General of JASP, leads our efforts to prepare the manual.

Critical to all of these efforts has been regular consultation with Dr. Pfohl. Hisako Nishiyama (NASP Liaison of JASP) overviews the process below.

Support System for JASP in the Eastern Japan Disaster

Consultation in Responding to the Massive Disaster

It has been a truly special experience to be a part of this very important response to Japan's worst natural disaster. As Hisako lives far away from the disaster zone, supporting the people in crisis is not an everyday matter in her area. This work allowed her to support the people there in an indirect way, and she appreciates having had the opportunity to do so.

Hisako's primary task was to maintain communications with Dr. Pfohl and share his guidance with the management team and other members of the JASP Child and School Support Team for Eastern Japan Disaster.

Regular consultation began on March 23, 2011, almost 2 weeks after the initial event. This was the acute stage when many practical supports such as rescue materials and recovering lifelines were needed. We corresponded by Skype once a week at that stage. Later, we communicated every 2 weeks, and then every month as needs rose. The later part is the recovery stage, Dr. Pfohl cautioned us about the fatigue of supporters, also known as caregiver fatigue or burnout. This was particularly important guidance for us, as it would not be easy to verbalize one's own tiredness in Japanese culture where the needs of the common good are considered before the needs of oneself. In addition to concern over caregiver fatigue, the teachers in the affected areas kept working very hard to help their students while they really needed to do things for their own families. Because of Dr. Pfohl's counsel, we were able to emphasize the importance of recognizing and addressing the issue without hesitation in our meetings and in teacher inservice trainings. This was helpful for us, other members of JASP, and the teachers.

Dr. Pfohl also explained what to expect in terms of the basic flow of changing needs, starting from emergency supplies to daily materials. This reflected what we were experiencing at the time, with many schools serving as emergency shelters for displaced families. We started off focusing on providing survival materials such as food, water, and medicine, and moved to providing school items such as drawing tools and paper.

To date we have had more than 10 consultation sessions with Dr. Pfohl and the information was shared with JASP administrative members through e-mails and our meetings.

Key Benefits

There are many aspects to the support we received through these consultations, which are listed below. One of the most helpful, though, was to have reassurance about our actions in Japan.

Prevision. It is sometimes hard to predict what issues will come along from time to time. Dr. Pfohl's consultation was critical to helping us understand in advance what to expect, which helped us to prepare. Also, reviewing what had been happening on an ongoing basis enriched our insight and effectiveness.

Reassurance. Throughout the process, we discussed many approaches we could take to support the people in the affected areas and those who were evacuated out of the area. We would not have been able to take on new roles with as much confidence without Dr. Pfohl's reassurance that our ideas and actions were correct. For instance, Toshinori believed that building a well-considered support system required communication with the government. This was a new, even unprecedented, step for us, but Dr. Pfohl's strong agreement that this was an important step helped us move forward.

Resources. It has been a wonderful support that NASP allowed us to utilize the crisis response materials from the beginning. As time went on, we came across additional needs. Dr. Pfohl introduced us not only to key concepts but also handouts and articles that helped us continue to adjust our support to be most effective.

Modeling. One of the most mentioned issues in our consultation was our own selfcare. The conversation always started with Dr. Pfohl checking on how Hisako was, how JASP members were, and then how the people in the area were. This provided us a model for how to be a caregiver for others as well as each other.

Encouragement. The guidance shared from the consultations, the materials, and the information that a small fund could be offered by NASP or ISPA, if needed, impressed JASP members. Just knowing that we were supported in so many ways by colleagues from overseas encouraged us to keep working.

We both appreciate the opportunity to participate in this unique process. We were really helped through both the information and emotional support. This also enriched our skills so that we will be better able to support other organizations and professionals in the future.

In conclusion, we find that it is so important to help teachers help students keep everyday school life as normal as possible. One of JASP's most important strengths at this time may be that Japanese “school psychologists” include teachers, principals, and leaders in local educational bureaus as well as leaders in teacher training universities. We try to learn from children, teachers, and parents about how they keep resilient and progress. We keep logs from our meetings and practices about how children, teachers, and schools recover and grow.

The strong partnership with NASP and ISPA has been so great! We really appreciate the support from NASP and ISPA. We have no words to express our appreciation properly to you. Hopefully we could return the favor of all the members of NASP and ISPA to someone in need, should a crisis occur in the future. Thank you to all the members of NASP and ISPA.


Ishikuma, T., Shinohara, Y., & Nakao, T. (2007). School psychology in Japan. In S. Jimerson, T. Oakland, & P. Farrell (Eds.), Handbook of international school psychology. (pp. 217–227). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Toshinori Ishikuma teaches school psychology at the Graduate School of Comprehensive Human Sciences, and also is Vice Superintendent for Education Bureau of the Laboratory Schools at University of Tsukuba. He is the president of the Japanese Association of School Psychologists and of the Japanese School Psychology Association, and coordinates the JASP Child and School Support Team for Eastern Japan Disaster. Hisako Nishiyama, PhD, teaches school counseling and guidance at the Graduate Study of Education (Division of Professional Practice in Education) at Fukuoka University of Education. She is a member of the JASP Child and School Support Team for Eastern Japan Disaster and is a NASP liaison for JASP.