Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Trauma and Human Resilience

Mental Nurse alerted us to the results of some new research in the US on coping with collective Trauma.

University of Buffalo News Release:
“It's Okay to Keep Those Feelings Inside, New Study Suggests”
“……Contrary to popular notions about what is normal or healthy, new research has found that it is okay not to express one's thoughts and feelings after experiencing a collective trauma, such as a school shooting or terrorist attack.
[The author] points out that immediately after last year's tragic shootings at Virginia Tech University there were many ‘talking head’ psychiatrists in the media describing how important it is to get all the students expressing their feelings.
‘This perfectly exemplifies the assumption in popular culture, and even in clinical practice, that people need to talk in order to overcome a collective trauma,’ he said……”

In
The Cockroach Catcher, Dr Zhang remembered attending a lunch time talk at his hospital: “What have we learnt from King’s Cross?”

The speaker was a Senior Registrar from the Maudsley."......He was a Registrar at the time of the King’s Cross fire. He was just coming out of the station when the accident happened, and so was at the front line so to speak not just as a pedestrian but also as a psychiatrist. He became interested in PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and did a fair bit of research on King’s Cross and other disasters.
He quoted a number of cases, including the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster. There were those who despite help of all kinds would commit suicide. Many were heroes in that they saved many lives. Yet the feeling that they did not deserve to live eventually overtook them and they committed suicide.
What was most surprising was how the group that had counselling generally fared worse, much worse than those without any counselling. The group that did best were the ones that drank, and drank a fair amount.
It was not his intention to promote vodka but he thought we could not be kept from the truth……
His research showed that talking about the incident seemed to make things worse, much worse than anyone ever imagined……”
Then he remembered
Kim Phuc:
“By rights possibly one of the most damaged psychologically and physically. She underwent no fewer than seventeen operations. The photo of her running down the street of Saigon naked probably changed the course of the Vietnam War and the world’s perception of good and bad. Then came her dramatic escape in 1992 to Newfoundland and her eventual settling down in Canada. Human resilience is not to be underestimated and the imposition of psychological intervention could represent a great under-estimation of our genetical endowment. At one of her public lectures, one of the war veterans who was a helicopter gunner broke down.”
Kim Phuc never had any therapy.

We have to be aware that a whole industry has sprung up based on very inexact theories and it is nice to know that the earlier findings in England have now been confirmed across the pond. In cases where mental conditions are entangled with compensation claims it becomes especially difficult to be truly objective.

On the matter of psychotherapy, a good deal of current blog comments are hostile to therapists and their methods. A good therapist is hard to come by, and should be like a wise aunt or uncle to whom one turns to for advice that one may or may not accept or act on. A good therapist needs to be intelligent and broad-minded, and mature with rich life experience. A bad therapist, on the other hand, takes over and does not allow for any leeway on how one should continue with life.

We may forget too that good therapy is for life, and may be more useful for the mentally healthy than for the mentally sick. What government or insurer would allow for that?

Here I will have to quote my Guru again:
“A Therapist is like a toilet really: some may need it three or five times a week; others once in a while. Some patients may have a sort of mental diarrhoea and require therapy sessions more often.”

My only gripe is that where money is involved, one needs to be cautious: the best advice in life is free, like those from your wise aunt or uncle, if you are lucky enough to have one.
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4 comments:

Am Ang Zhang said...

Zarathustra left this on the Mental Nurse Blog.
Posted June 4, 2008 at 8:32 am | Permalink
Interesting post, Cockroachcatcher. I particularly agree with this bit:

A good therapist is hard to come by, and should be like a wise aunt or uncle to whom one turns to for advice that one may or may not accept or act on. A good therapist needs to be intelligent and broad-minded, and mature with rich life experience. A bad therapist, on the other hand, takes over and does not allow for any leeway on how one should continue with life.

Ruth said...

My partner who is a counsellor has for a long time said that encouraging people to talk about their trauma, only makes things worse for them. She counsels a lot of people who have been tortured, and she works with people to improve their lives now.

Am Ang Zhang said...

Thanks Ruth. I suspect I might know you. I used to work with my GURU in West Middlesex. Yes? No? You can email me on cockroachcatcher@gmail.com.

The Cockroach Catcher

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