Disaster counselling often pointless, says psychologist

Disaster counselling often pointless, says psychologist

13 October 2010

published by www.theage.com.au

Australia —  PSYCHOLOGICAL counselling in the immediate aftermath of huge disasters such as the Black Saturday bushfires is mostly pointless, an Australian psychologist says.

Professor Richard Bryant, of the University of New South Wales, says most people recover quickly from the trauma of living through a major disaster, making psychological counselling unnecessary.

”Whenever we have a disaster, we have this practice where counsellors rush in under the premise that, if we don’t, people are high-risk in developing all sorts of psychological problems,” Professor Bryant said.

”Studies round the world tell us now that even though most people are very distressed initially, the vast majority of us bounce back within a few months.”

In the short term, it is far more important to ensure that people are safe, have shelter and are in touch with loved ones and their community, he said. Psychological intervention is only useful once symptoms of a lasting disorder become evident, which may take many weeks.

”There has been too much of the wrong type of counselling and too soon,” Professor Bryant said.

Only 10 to 20 per cent of people develop a mental health disorder that requires mental health assistance after a disaster. The rest are better served by practical problem-solving and by being taught skills to help them take control of their lives.

Studies had shown that the full psychological cost of events such as hurricane Katrina or Black Saturday could only be measured years later, when factors such as lingering unemployment and relationship stress were taken into account, he said.

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