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Special> Aftermath of the Quake> Latest News
UPDATED: May 19, 2008  
Psychologists Suggest Long-term Counseling for China Quake Victims

In big disasters like southwest China earthquake, the country shall prepare long-term psychological counseling for victims, which might last for years, said a renowned psychologist Sunday.

"Big disasters like this devastating earthquake will exert long and deep effect on victims. They might need psychological counseling for quite a long time, three to five years and even longer," said Ye Bin, director of the psychological counseling center of Shanghai-based East China Normal University, in a telephone interview.

A psychologist consoles a girl who lost touch with her parents during Monday's earthquake in southwest China's Sichuan Province May 16, 2008. A renowned psychologist said Sunday in big disasters like southwest China earthquake, the country shall prepare long-term psychological counseling for victims, which might last for years. (Xinhua Photo)

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In the first stage, psychological counseling will focus on comforting and soothing the mood of victims and the psychological rehabilitation usually starts one or two weeks after the disaster, he said.

"When the local situation becomes stable, it will be the proper time for psychologists to provide systemic counseling," he said.

With Ye and his colleagues as backup, a team made up of eight volunteer psychologists, disaster control and public relations experts left Shanghai for quake-hit Sichuan on Sunday.

"They aim to collect first-hand information about psychological need among local people and prepare for our long-term counseling program," Ye said.

The university's counseling center plans to initiate a counseling program for teachers and students in quake-hit regions with the international non-governmental organization Outward Bound's branch in Taiwan, which had worked for victims in the 7.3-magnitude earthquake in Taiwan in 1999. The program will start in late June.

"Many psychologists have volunteered to take part in the team," said Ni Jian, the team head and president of Shanghai Sunny bund Public Relations Consulting Co. Ltd. "But we choose members very carefully because this will be a risky task. According to previous experience, some psychologists had psychological problems themselves and even had to quit the job after counseling for disaster victims."

As China's psychological counseling service has just developed in the past few years, the number of psychologists that are specially trained for treatment and intervention for psychological trauma is limited and those having the on-the-spot experience are even fewer, Ni said.

She suggested that the country bring in foreign expertise and train local psychologists who could speak Sichuan dialect.

"In the first stage, psychologists do not need to speak too much. Sometimes a hug is better than any words. But in the long-term, those speaking local dialect will be easier to develop trust with victims and provide better counseling," Ye said.

Besides collecting information, the team will give counseling to some reporters, rescuers and medical workers on the front line.

"Victims might witness disastrous scenes around them but reporters witnessed much more. Some of them might have developed quite serious psychological stress and even trauma. They need counseling as well," Ni said.

The 8.0-magnitude earthquake jolted northwestern part of Sichuan on Monday. The death toll reached 32,476 and more than 220,000 were injured as of 2 p.m. Sunday.

Psychologists nationwide have been actively engaged in helping victims. The Chinese Psychological Society issued a letter Thursday proposing psychologists nationwide to help counterparts in Sichuan.

Beijing Association for Mental Health has also held a program to train volunteers of psychological crisis intervention since Saturday.

(Xinhua News Agency May 18, 2008)

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