pastel by PattyRice,

Biographies of the Developers

A down-to-earth, practical class in Psychological First Aid (PFA) was co-created by Elizabeth McMahon, PhD and Susan Schmitz, MAIDP with assistance from Shea Baldez of SF CARD, Teri Dowling of SF DPH, and Capt. Erica Arteseros of SFFD. 

To schedule a class in PFA, email the SF Dept of Public Health at or call (415) 558-5991.

Elizabeth McMahon, PhD

Dr. Elizabeth McMahon is a licensed clinical psychologist now in private practice in San Francisco, after 32 years at Kaiser-Permanente Psychiatry in Fremont. She received her MA and PhD in Clinical Psychology from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

While at Kaiser, Dr. McMahon served on the Regional Best Practices Committee for anxiety disorders, did crisis intervention and triage, ran crisis groups, and provided evening and weekend on-call psychiatric services to the emergency room. She provided crisis counseling when a patient’s car crashed into the pharmacy injuring staff and on 9/11, she provided on-site psychological first aid to a company who lost staff in the attack.

Dr. McMahon specializes in brief, effective therapy for anxiety, panic, fears, burnout, stress and insomnia, offers virtual reality therapy for phobias, and teaches positive psychology skills to increase personal happiness and effectiveness. She lives close to the Marina and provided emergency counseling after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, lectures frequently on psychological first aid and other topics.

Susan Schmitz, MAIDP

Susan Schmitz has worked for over seven years in disaster preparedness research, training, and program coordination. She holds a Masters of Arts degree in International Disaster Psychology from the University of Denver. While in Colorado, she provided emotional support and public health education to refugees and at-risk youth. These activities culminated in an internship in Novi Sad, Serbia where Susan consulted with a refugee clinic on stress management for staff.

After graduating, she moved to Miami, FL, where she worked at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Center for Disaster and Extreme Event Preparedness. During that time, Susan taught Safety Function Action and disaster behavioral health to first responders and public health staff. In addition, she has been an adjunct professor at Barry University since 2009 where she developed and continues to teach Psychosocial Issues of Disaster Response and Recovery.

Susan lived in San Francisco, CA for two years and previously served as the Director of Programs at SF CARD (Community Agencies Responding to Disaster). She provided technical support and guidance to nonprofit and faith-based organizations to develop agency emergency plans and offers trainings and exercises to staff. She also supported community resilience efforts with the Chinatown Disaster Preparedness Committee and the Empowered Communities Program.