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He Is Dr. Disaster And Is Here To Help You With This Crisis

Sofia Vargas

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Dr. Disaster

“Crises are in the eye of the beholder,” says Dr. Joshua Klapow, a clinical psychologist.  And that’s in part how he got the nickname Dr. Disaster.

Crises come in all shapes sizes and degree of impact. For some it’s the downturn of their company in a struggling economy, for others it’s a relationship on the rocks. Sometimes crises affect many hundreds or thousands, natural disasters, mass shootings, terrorist attacks.  Sometimes they can even be global like a pandemic. In any of these scenarios, the psychological and emotional toll on individuals can be devastating. Communities, cities, states, nations can suffer from global distress, a sense of helplessness, and difficulty making decisions and choices that can help them carry on. In any crisis what people do or don’t do and how they do or don’t do it determines in some cases whether they survive or not, and in all cases whether they thrive or not.

 So where can we turn?  Where should we turn? Dr. Josh believes that at the heart of every crisis is human distress that needs guidance to see it through.  And for years, Dr. Josh has served that role to individuals, companies, cities, states and even nations. And that’s how he came by the nickname  Dr. Disaster. From his presence across media outlets when “disaster strikes”. 

 As he says “Unfortunately I have taken on this nickname.  When bad things happen you will often see me on television, hear from me on radio or read my words in print.  The good news is that when bad things happen to you, your company, your city or state, you can count on me to be there with the tools, and the experience to help people tap into their psychological resiliency and work through a crisis.  So I guess Dr. Disaster isn’t that bad after all”. 

Dr. Josh has been working for decades with people in a variety of crisis situations:  A CEO in the middle of a contested divorce trying to compartmentalize the stress divorce while maintaining the functioning of a multimillion-dollar business. An elite athlete who has just seen their season end due to a catastrophic injury and now must face the transition to a next life chapter.   A start-up company that fell on a tough economy and now is faced with massive downsizing while looking after their employees well being. A multibillion-dollar company that is struggling with the retention of high performing individuals who are leaving in droves because of punitive management culture. Or maybe it’s a tornado or hurricane or earthquake that has decimated a city or state. Or a global pandemic that has struck fear in the hearts of frankly the world. Dr. Josh is usually there.  It may be for a one on one series of consultations out of the media’s eye. It may be as an advisor helping leadership making tough decisions about layoffs. You may see him on television; hear him on the radio, read his quotes in print as he tries to get the messages out to the masses. 

Dr. Josh is there to help people navigate.  He explains:

“In times of crises, big or small, at the individual level or global, as a general rule we, humans experience levels of distress that impact every aspect of our functioning.  Crises change the way we think, the way we process information, the way we `function. Having the right tools to reduce our anxiety, focus our concentration, regulate our autonomic nervous system is critical.  Even then, when people are undergoing prolonged stressful situations, they need someone who can point out the cognitive errors, the irrational beliefs, and the self-defeating actions that come with being under immense pressure.   I see it at the individual level but I also see it at the group and population level. A distressed management team makes human resource decisions that often are focused on relieving their own distress but not focused on maximizing the productivity or longevity of their employees.   A distressed community engages in a series of actions typically aimed at reducing individual anxiety but not looking at the interconnectedness of their interactions. Crisis does bring out the best in some people but it also brings our weakest psychological characteristics to the forefront.  My job is to help guide people through the crisis of their lives.“ Dr. Josh states.

Dr. Disaster

While having significant life and/or business experience is a great backdrop to helping people, it doesn’t formally prepare a person to manage the intense emotions, the erratic decisions, the fear, anxiety and at times irrational behavior that happens when people are experiencing a life crisis.  Understanding how stress, anxiety, perceived danger, escape preferences, cognitive biases and psychophysiological deregulation impact every aspect of an individual’s life is critical to help them navigate crisis situations.. There are many untrained or poorly trained individuals in the marketplace providing high-priced services to people and organizations in very high profile, high scrutiny, and high-pressured positions.  Watching this happen in everyone from start-up CEOs to executives in publicly traded organizations to professional athletes and entertainers to entire communities is what motivated Dr. Josh Klapow to step in.

 Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist. He has a specialization in behavioral medicine and disaster mental health. He trained at UCLA and UC San Diego and spent nearly 20 years researching the role of human behavior in health, well being and the impact of disaster and crisis on human functioning as an Associate Professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He has taught hundreds of graduate students and professionals the principles of psychological first aid, disaster communication and psychosocial crisis managing. He has served as a behavioral science consultant for individuals and organizations across the country as well as the World Health Organization.  He has spent his entire career trying to help people thrive in situations where there are significant challenges to their physical and mental health and overall well being. 

“My clinical training was specifically focused on helping people change their lives during times of challenge, strife and crisis.  It was also designed to help people understand how situations and environmental settings either helped people to thrive or served as a barrier.  My training was designed to help people navigate the life changes in front of them and to help people design businesses and systems of care that were much more person centered.” Dr. Josh says.

Dr. Josh’s traditional research and clinical work have been supplemented by a  collaboration with media outlets to provide the public with the psychological first aid tools during times of crisis.  From 9/11 to the variety of mass shootings, to SARS, to tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, the financial crisis of 2008, plane crashes, Ebola, and COVID-19.  His passion to get the message out to help people navigate fear anxiety, distress, and frustration have resulted in products such as “The Preparedness Minute”, A CDC funded series of videos that have been disseminated to public health organizations and first responders across the country help people prepare and cope with national disasters.  He has been called on by media outlets across the country after natural disasters, mass shootings, and disease outbreaks to help address the social and psychological impact these events have on people.  From multiple appearances on The Weather Channel to the BBC, NBC Weekend News, and local affiliates across the country. To digital outlets ranging from the HuffPost, Buzzfeed, Elite Daily, Men’s Health, Today.com, US News and World Report and more.   Dr. Josh has been a media partner and a psychological first aid expert for nearly two decades.

 He has also worked extremely closely with the business community to address the human resource impact of difficult and life-changing scenarios.  He has consulted on continuity planning, employee engagement, crisis communication, executive impairment, leadership transition, and psychological first aid for organizations ranging from startups to multibillion-dollar public companies.   His unique expertise as a public health academician and a clinical psychologist allows him to shift from a focus on the individual to groups and populations as is needed. Sophisticated technology and a deep understanding of psychology and behavioral science. 

This blend of expertise in behavioral science, disaster preparedness, crisis communication and business along with his presence in the national media has positioned Dr. Josh as a sought after resource for companies and individuals across the US helping them leverage psychology and behavioral science in crisis situations.  He is called on to help people survive and thrive when high levels of pressure and stress are present. He has become a public and private “go-to” for those who need his input in any crisis situation or capacity. 

“I know that crises will vary greatly in terms of how many people are impacted.  I also know that in crisis situations there is a need for guidance that is not always delivered in a traditional “mental health” format.  People need messages that are being delivered via the media, companies need guidance to make the best decisions possible for their employees, individuals need to know there is someone on the other end of a call, video conference, or text that can offer psychological tools and resources immediately to help make critical decisions.  I am not a physician or an economist. My role is to know as much as is possible about how to navigate the psychological, cognitive, emotional and behavioral challenges that arise before, during and after a crisis situation. My role is to be there to make sure that you as an individual, a company or a community or nation have the right strategies to work with the impact of humans in a state of distress.

“I serve as a trusted “psychological correspondent” for media outlets nationally and internationally and I work with businesses and individuals to help them bring behavioral science and psychology to the forefront of their organizations and their personal lives in the context of crises and disasters.  I am here to consult and coach, to develop and support. I am here when you need an individual who can help you or your company thrive in times of crisis, change, decision making or growth. I deeply understand human behavior and I have lived the real-life experiences. Look, in my opinion it comes down to this, if you need to understand how thoughts, emotions and behaviors impact your life during some of the most critical situations and times.  If you need to understand that in the context of your company, or the life of others around you, it is important that you get it right, you have to go with someone who has training and experience. Be careful, because intuition, and experience with life strife is not what you want if you need someone to help you get it right. A high level of specific training and experience is critical, because your life is critical. I’ve worked my whole career to prepare me to help. And I’m here to help.” Dr. Josh says.

For Dr. Josh, mindset is critical because you must be willing to look at a crisis situation that may have everyone around you deregulated, distressed and convinced there are no options or their options are the only options.  Being able to sit in periods of crisis and guide people through the array of emotions and actions without getting pulled down in is a skill that has to be honed and refined if you are to be at the forefront of crisis management.  You have to trust your training and trust that in the middle of chaos you can hold steady as a voice of reason. 

“My advice for those who are trying to help in crisis and disaster situations is to make sure you check yourself first. Do you have the tools to be strong, to know when you are exceeding your bandwidth, to join with individuals, organizational, communities while keeping yourself psychological strong.  If you haven’t had this kind of training you run the risk of becoming a psychological liability versus as n asset. Dr. Josh advises.

Dr. Josh is adamant about pushing the message that psychological well being is a science, with specific tools and methods that are desperately needed for individuals and groups during times of strife.  He will also tell you that the larger the crisis, the more people it impacts and the longer the duration the more we need to rely not just on being tough, but rely on the assets that come with specific and targeted experience and credentials in psychology, behavioral science, and human performance

 “If you are someone who is experiencing a personal life crisis, an organization that is trying to navigate a crisis or a community that is trying to contain a crisis. I have the training and understanding to help you.  If you are in a high-pressure situation and need to make sure that you are getting the most out of your own psychological, emotional, behavioral and physiological resources, I can guide you through. .” Dr. Josh states.

To learn more about Dr. Josh’s work or how you can reach out, go here. 

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