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. Scott Lilienfeld, a professor of psychology at Emory University, has written and spoken about "critical incident stress debriefing," a technique often used by counselors who travel to disaster sites, such as Ground Zero and New Orleans. Research finds that some versions of this technique may double the chances that a trauma victim will suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).Read the full story at TIME Healthland.
I spoke with Lilienfeld, who is an expert on the research evidence on the risks and benefits of the most commonly employed post-disaster counseling techniques.
So, how could the counseling of survivors immediately after the tsunami and earthquake possibly backfire?
No one knows for sure why it's not a good idea, but given what the research shows, [some kinds of debriefing can be harmful]. It usually involves putting people in groups very shortly after the traumatic event and strongly encouraging them to "Get their feelings out" and "Talk about it" and so on. In classic debriefing, they almost prescribe symptoms, saying things like "Don't be surprised if you start feeling X, Y or Z" or "There's a good chance you'll have nightmares or flashbacks." There's some speculation that that [in itself] might bring some of the symptoms on, so I'm not sure that's a great idea.
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