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Latest News
Special> Aftermath of the Quake> Latest News
UPDATED: May 20, 2008  
Trauma Counseling for Quake Survivors in Full Swing

 China's largest grief counseling operation for survivors of a natural disaster is in full swing, a week after an 8.0-magnitude earthquake rocked the southwestern Sichuan Province.

In a temporary residence for quake victims in Mianyang City, Dr. Wang Ningxia faced 8-year-old Qiao Xi, who was traumatized and unable to speak after her experience in the disaster.

A psychologist consoles a girl who lost touch with her parents during Monday's earthquake in southwest China's Sichuan Province May 16, 2008.

Qiao Xi's mother lost four members of her family including her son, Qiao Xi's elder brother, in the quake. The formerly talkative girl hadn't spoken for a week.

"Do you still want to go to school? Would you want to go back to your school?" the psychologist asked.

The question won the first one-word response.

"Want," whispered the girl, who had been communicating with the simple body language of nodding for "yes" or shaking her head for "no."

Wang said that the session had achieved some success. But not all the cases she was treating in the quake zone progressed.

"I tried in vain to communicate with a mother who lost her daughter. She could not face the truth. She neither cried nor ate," said Wang.

The doctor from the South West University of Science and Technology led 10 teachers and 34 students to offer counseling in Mianyang City.

Wang took out a questionnaire she had drafted and pleaded with Xinhua's reporters to help submit it to authorities, who have the power to hand out the questionnaire to survivors. "The questionnaire would help counselors locate victims who urgently need psychological treatment," said Wang.

There are at least 300 professional psychologists working in the quake zone, according to Xinhua's tally of medical staff sent by the Ministry of Health and a dozen medical institutes around the country.

A group of psychologists led by Zhang Yuqing, associate professor from the Psychological Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has carried out counseling for 1,000 school children in Beichuan County, closest to the epicenter of the earthquake.

"We gave the children some knowledge and methods to ease psychological stress," said Zhang, who also planned to meet injured victims and orphans.

Wang Ningxia said that most of the psychologists working in the quake zone volunteered to join the task.

"This was the first time that we faced so many traumatized people. This is the first attempt at such a massive psychological operation in China. The work lacks overall coordination," said Wang.

She said that psychological therapy is urgently needed, since survivors are still gripped with horror and a sense of insecurity and solitude.

"They re-experience the horror again and again in everyday nightmares or insomnia. The trauma may persist for two to 10 years," she said.

Zhang Kan, director of the Psychological Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that millions of quake victims, witnesses, rescuers and even reporters could suffer psychological trauma and need counseling.

"Some people may not handle the emotion and suffer long-time panic, the feeling of setbacks and emotional dysphoria. Such patients may turn to liquor, cigarettes and drugs for comfort. Some may contemplate suicide or other extreme behavior," said Zhang.

Dysphoria is a medical term for a general state of feeling unwell.

About 10,000 psychological manuals have been sent to kindergartens and schools in ravaged areas of Sichuan from Tianjin, a northern port city.

The brochures, compiled by experts and students at Nankai University, teach people how to comfort themselves and help others to recover from psychological trauma.

Outside the quake zones, people and organizations voluntarily mobilized psychological consultation and assistance for the survivors.

In Liaoning Province, northeast China, a website started operations on Monday to help young Sichuan migrant students and employees.

Psychologists will stay online at www.newssc.org and www.nen.com.cn to answer questions concerning post-quake problems.

"We plan to recruit more professionals and train volunteers to help the team," said Su Jiasheng, chief of a cyberspace volunteers association based in Shenyang, the provincial capital.

In Hubei Province, more than 60 psychological instructors attended a training program at Huazhong Normal University on Monday afternoon in preparation for helping students whose hometowns are in quake-hit regions.

Falling into deep grief after losing relatives, many students confined themselves to their dorms and turned down any kind of help, said Wang Haiyan, a lecturer in the training course.

The training, based on case studies and experience from a serious earthquake in Taiwan, is aimed at improving teachers' knowledge and skill to help get students out of depression and sorrow.

Thousands of volunteers from around the country have registered through local psychological service stations to help with the rescue. But there is a serious shortage of professional psychologists, since trauma counseling is still a developing science, even in China's major cities.

(Xinhua News Agency May 19, 2008)

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