The ripple effect of disasters

Disasters seem to be occupying the headlines more and more often. Not a week goes by without a terror attack, or a natural disaster. When a disaster happens in another city or a country, we as therapists are likely to feel compelled to go there and assist those directly affected.

Generally, it is assumed that disasters affect a particular place which is then considered to be the impacted community. However, this doesn’t necessarily apply nowadays as a disaster may also impact on a dispersed population, one that will have only a passing connection with the locality within which it occurs. It is not enough to look at the obvious community only.

For example, it may not be obvious that after the Utoya shootings in Norway in 2011, during the Norwegian Labour party youth summer camp, there were bereaved African families left behind.

When the Paris attacks in November shook the world, the bereaved and survivors came from many countries – especially from the UK, being so close and so connected to France. And these individuals may be invisible to the systems of support, unless physically injured.

In my experience, disaster support is normally aimed at people in the place where the disaster happened, which unfortunately excludes all those outside it. For example, after 9/11 there was free psychotherapy as well as hundreds of organised support groups in New York and surrounding areas, run by therapists and other helping professionals, but those outside of this city and others outside the USA were unable to attend such groups.

It is important to understand that in the months after a disaster, when the initial emergency situation has ended, the survivors and bereaved are likely to need support the most. This in-between stage tends to be extremely taxing and exhausting. Getting through the wasteland of the first months after the disaster can be made a little bit less lonely and horrifying by having a therapist as a witness as well as meeting peers and mentors for support, wherever people are.

I would like to encourage therapists and counsellors to look out for those in their own area who may have experienced a disaster trauma in a completely different part of the world, and offer their assistance. The work that is likely to be helpful, in my experience, is one- to- one therapy work and support group interventions, as well as the opportunity to meet mentors from previous disasters.

I hope you've found this topic interesting. If so, I recommend attending my one day Workshop to be held in February on “Working therapeutically in the aftermath of disaster“.

To see all the details please go here.

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