Providing Counseling After a Tragedy May Do More Harm than Good

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In The Conversation, two psychologists discuss the research evidence into providing early intervention mental health services to the public shortly after large-scale tragedies. They advise that doing nothing is often much better and safer for people.

“In the past, mental health professionals were of the view that early intervention was critical for helping prevent early symptoms progressing into debilitating conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder,” they write. “But three decades of research has demonstrated that indiscriminant psychological intervention carried out in the immediate aftermath of a critical incident may well do harm… One possible explanation for this counter-intuitive finding is that the symptoms of hyper-arousal and hyper-alertness that follow a critical incident tend to naturally fade for many people as time passes. This natural process of recovery and redeveloping a sense of safety may be disrupted by ill-timed psychological interventions.”

Why not all Sydney siege hostages will need mental health help (The Conversation, December 16, 2014)

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3 COMMENTS

  1. According to my psychologist’s medical records, she believed disgust at 9.11.2001 was “bipolar.” But, of course, disgust at 9.11 is not cured by major tranquilizers, and the neuroleptics cause people who are put on them improperly to become ungodly sick. So I don’t think this finding is counter-intuitive. I find psychologists who have delusions that disgust at disgusting things is a “life long, incurable genetic mental illnesses,” to be the counter intuitive, or even insane.

  2. “research evidence into providing early intervention mental health services to the public shortly after large-scale tragedies. They advise that doing nothing is often much better and safer for people.”
    Who would have though that (except for almost everyone at MIA and all psychiatric surviviours)? You know what victims of large-scale disasters, wars and accidents need? Money, food, clean water, help to recover their belongings, safe shelter, medical care (no, I don’t include psychiatry in this category)…and a lot of time. But instead they get (at best – providing they don’t get immediately prescribed something) a bunch of pompous morons telling them the most obvious things on earth like they were lecturing 5yr olds about Big Bang and quantum physics and questioning their interpretation of their own experiences or worse telling them that anger, grief and all the normal emotions they feel are a disorder. I wonder why that doesn’t work?

  3. You are exactly correct, B – Psychological First Aid follows strict guidelines to provide safety, address minor medical issues, transition to peace, monitor anxiety through attentional breathing, provide personal comfort (hygiene, residency issues, logistics) and thwart sleeping for at least 4 hours. Following the guidelines greatly minimizes parasympathetic response and post-traumatic anxiety. There is harm in ‘recalling’ the trauma and must be approached delicately with the person’s autonomy honored.