Japan: what kinds of post-trauma counseling help (or hurt)?

From a TIME Magazine piece on post-trauma counseling for survivors in Japan: "Experience with past disasters suggest that some types of psychological first aid may help those who have lived through them, but others can actually cause harm."


  1. So, it’d be a wash then. So why spend the money?

    Perhaps if the linked-to article provided some numbers, instead of just “Well, some’ll, some’won’t get better”….

    Statistics, man!

  2. Boing-Boing reported after the Haiti earthquake about Scientology sending volunteer ministers there to provide counseling and faith healing and about how, ummm, “helpful” they were.

  3. Having just finished my college course on the Psych of Trauma, I was shocked and amazed to see such a well-informed and useful article in a major publication. Everything he says is spot-on with the current state-of-the-art in mental health, which is actually quite rare for ‘experts’ in that field.

    As far as numbers, those are very hard to come by, partially because a lot of the studies done have come at the problem with faulty assumptions. More and more data is showing that PTSD is a culture-bound phenomenon; the less Western a culture is, the fewer incidences of PTSD will be found there. But yes, definitely, flying out squads of social workers to provide “psychiatric first aid” would be wasteful at best. Get people safe and connected with each other first, then later on worry about mental well-being.

  4. Having been in some very vulnerable places in the past, it’s really been jaw-droppingly awful when highly trained ‘experts’ have tried to help me.

    Someone with a lot of theory training is likely to overestimate how much they think they can help. After all, I’m just the one with the condition, what would I know about the science of it?

    Now, if they were to send in the best and brightest psychologists who survived Chernoble and Bhophal, send them in as inspiration to what society can accomplish when we pull together to overcome diversity… *then* they would have some credibility.

    yeah, not so much…

    1. D’oh! I probably meant to say “adversity”, but the freudian slip is probably more appropriate…

  5. Here’s a tip:

    It’s NOT over. We’re STILL living it.
    Keep your narcisistic, “oooh, what if this affects me in California!?” and your gleeful scoring of political points for later please. We need body bags, not sensationalism.

    Thank you.

  6. It’s a good thing Japan so highly values suck-it-up-and-stop-your-bellyaching. That’ll come in pretty useful for the victims I imagine.

  7. I recommend Ethan Watters’ Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche on this subject. He has a chapter about the rush of self-proclaimed trauma experts to Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami. Almost all the people who went were well-intentioned, and many of them were knowledgeable about how traumatic experiences are absorbed by Americans. Almost none of them knew anything about Sri Lankan culture or about the techniques and customs developed in that culture for processing traumatic events.

  8. After 9/11, I qualified for the state-supplied mental health benefits (I was 3 blocks away when the first tower fell). I used it to get EMDR, among other things, and it was pretty clear that I was among the “less resilient” 30% who go on to develop the collection of behaviors and mental states that are labeled PTSD. Nobody told me this. I just came to realize that doing things like flying into a blind, screaming rage at an uncooperative bicycle part meant that I was maybe a little, you know…off. So I sought assistance.

    Trouble is, the ultimate utility of the therapies I used remains unknown: would I have been more of a basket case without them? I’ve got no idea.

    What I do know is that watching the coverage of Japan on Friday night and most of Saturday eventually put me into an emotional space that I hadn’t been in for many years, which I wasn’t expecting at all. That didn’t happen with Banda Aceh or Haiti, but I don’t think those disasters were given the same kind of video-heavy, round-the-clock coverage as Japan.

    The exact nature of my pseudo-flashbackiness is irrelevant. When I realized what was happening–that I was steadily getting dragged back nine years or so–I stopped watching.

    If someone I didn’t know had approached me in the days, weeks, or even months after 9/11, and started rattling on about my need to “Get my feelings out,” or telling me not to “be surprised if you start feeling X, Y or Z,” I might have punched them in the face.

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