With many psychologically damaging experiences, the sooner help is given, the better. For example, kids who are bullied or those who experience abuse respond much better over the long haul if they receive therapy early on to deal with their experiences. But for survivors of disaster, implementing certain types of psychological intervention right away (and requiring that intervention) may not be the most beneficial. Critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) is a common response to disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and, most recently, the mine rescue in Chile. But according to the Association for Psychological Science, immediate, one-time CISD sessions aren’t all that helpful and in some cases may increase psychological trauma.
So what is a psychologically healthy approach? Making sure that people have the support, skills, and resources they need to recover at their own pace. In many cases, this means access to psychotherapy, especially with a therapist experienced in helping trauma and disaster survivors. Survivors may be ready to talk at different stages, some sooner than others. So it’s helpful to equip them early on with the skills to deal with their thoughts and feelings as they arise. Programs such as Australia’s “Skills for Psychological Recovery” aim at teaching specific mental and psychological problem solving skills. These skills help survivors recognize what they’re going through, calm themselves down, and limit negative thought patterns. They’re also taught that it’s okay to lean on others: psychotherapists for mental health support and friends and family for emotional support.
That emotional support is a key element to the puzzle. Just as arming individuals with skills to address their own thoughts is helpful, so is arming communities with the skills to understand and talk about mental health. With support from the outside, personal tools to address emotions as they arise, and access to therapy when it’s needed, disaster survivors have a much better chance of working through the experience and landing healthy on the other side.
© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.