Not according to several recent studies, and to several well-respected counsellors on NaturalTherapistForAll.com, an Internet network set up in the UK in 2009 to help victims of trauma (among other problems) to get in touch with therapists best suited to assist with their specific problems.
Everyone has witnessed the recent events in Japan caused by an 8.9 earthquake and the resulting tsunami that hit the city of Sendai. Though Japan is a country prepared for earthquakes, it was not prepared for the tsunami that followed. The damage caused by the disaster to buildings and infrastructure was massive, but the damage caused to people is immeasurable. The world is willing to help Japan. However, the immediate questions are: what kind of help is needed in Japan, what kind of help should be given and is disaster counselling a remedy?
Referring to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs), the principal need of a person is physiological, meaning shelter, food, clothes, and safety. Yet directly after the Asian Tsunami of 2005, victims were offered disaster counselling although they needed relief of a more immediate nature. Though disaster counselling has been of assistance on occasion (witnessed by various testimonies and studies), there are forms of counselling that can cause more harm than benefit. In a study carried out by Arnold van Emmerik and colleagues at the University of Amsterdam (originally cited in the Daily Telegraph on 6 September, 2002) on the victims of the World Trade Center bombing in the US, it was noted that victims who did not go through any disaster counselling were subject to less post-traumatic stress. This study was further emphasised by a later study carried out by the International Institute for Asian Studies (http://www.iias.nl/) on victims of the 2005 Asian Tsunami Victims. This study also found that people needed immediate relief, not counselling, and went on to explain that the problem with disaster counselling was that the counsellors came from varied backgrounds so they had limited understanding and experience with post-traumatic stress.
Can disaster counselling cause harm? Here are some of the views expressed in recent interviews with therapists from NaturalTherapistForAll.com.
Toireasa McCann, an Integrative body psychotherapist, who has training and experience working with people affected by trauma said that in these circumstances:
Practical help is, first, more important than counselling. Food, shelter and safety are the first priorities. People need somewhere safe to live during the day and to sleep at night; they need food. If we consider Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs, safety, food and shelter are the first before we can move on to anything ‘higher’. If people do not feel physically safe, they won’t feel safe to do much else (never mind looking at deeper things, like emotions)
Stephanie Futcher, who practices counselling and hypnotherapy in Chesterfield believes that there is danger in a ‘one size fits all’ solution to human problems, and adds:
I believe that people benefit from an opportunity to debrief shortly after the incident, but surely no-one can rush or cut short the necessary processing that has to take place. In Self and Society, the journal of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, there is a special edition on trauma. One point that emerges is that the medicalisation of human problems can amount to blaming the victims, as in ‘You haven’t adjusted yet, you are not normal, you have a disorder. Have a dose of CBT’. This does not take account of the individual as a unique individual in a social structure.
What can people do to help?
Victims need to go through Disaster Counselling – but at some time in the future when they are ready to talk about their traumatic experience – but at this instant it is not what they need. Disaster victims need stabilization to return to their normal daily lives – being able to feed themselves with food bought with money for which they worked hard. They need to get back to the sense of normality that existed before the disaster. At this point, victims just want to feel safe. The best remedy is to give the victims the comfort they yearn, and the support they need. Practical help and natural support is what is needed. So for the earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan, disaster counselling is not the help that they need – not at this moment. Contact us at NaturalTherapistForAll.com to find out how you can help those in need to help themselves to return to normality and start living again with dignity.