Monday, September 28, 2009

Trauma

I am glad that we are seeing bayanihan happening in our country at this very difficult time.  It is sad that there are those who are using the tragedy for their own selfish needs such as the people who are siphoning donations from abroad into private account numbers.  Please make sure that you donate money to reputable organizations such as the Red Cross, the DSWD, or to the media networks. 

Most of the efforts are understandably being focused on rescue and relief operations.  I hope that we also begin the process of helping people heal emotionally and psychologically.  Trauma is a natural consequence of major disasters and people do need help in dealing with it.

Of course helping people deal with severe trauma requires a certain expertise.  It is best that experts are brought in to do professional counseling.  But counseling is not rocket science so there is always something we can do to help friends and relatives deal with trauma.  From my many years experience as counselor, here are some top-of-mind simple techniques that you can do if you are face-to-face with someone who is experiencing trauma:

1.  Show you care both physically and verbally.  You don't need to do official counseling - just listen openly without making judgments.  Try not to say things such as "I know what you are going through" because you don't.  Don't make conclusions and generalizations.  Just be there and try to steer the conversation to developing solutions and action plans.

2.  Help the person verbalize their fears and emotions in a positive way.  Don't dwell too much on the anxiety - the object is not to re-live the experience, but to surface the emotions associated with them.  Doing so helps the person process the emotional experience at the rational level.  When dealing with children, other means of expression can be used - drawing, singing, etc.  

3.  The best way to help others deal with trauma is to offer reassurance.  This is particularly critical when dealing with children.  Cuddle children. Touch people.  Hug them. Shake their hands.

4.  Help the person get his or her life back to normal.  Accompany the person as he or she picks up the pieces.  Don't forget to try to inject fun into the whole process.  Find opportunities to help the person laugh or smile. 

5.  Be familiar with the stages of grief:  Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.  Help them move through the stages without judgments.  It is normal to see people being angry or being depressed after a major tragedy.  Help them move towards acceptance.

There are two other practical tips that you can keep in mind:

1.  Be aware of your own "packaging" - make sure that you are dressed simply and don't have jewelry.  It not only distracts from your message; it also puts you at a perceived advantage.

2.  Make sure you have candies or other goodies in your pockets or bag and offer these to children or survivors.  Candies provide a very real and physical sensory relief. 
 

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