Psychologists Arshad Husain, Barbara Bauer and Kathy Dewein will spend the next two weeks in regions devastated by the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami to help local children deal with the psychological aftereffects.
Tsunami victims will struggle with grief, guilt and depression, according to Husain. Survivors need to stop trying to understand why the disaster happened, he said.
“Religious beliefs or the belief system, whether they’re religious or simply spiritual, are really valuable,” Husain said.
Husain expects the psychological consequences in tsunami victims to resemble those he has seen during similar trips to Kosovo, Bosnia and Pakistan — to name a few. But, because the tsunami devastated a multi-cultural area, the team isn’t sure how each society will be coping.
“It’s really similar, but we will find some cultural differences based on how their belief system allows them to deal with these traumatic events and loss,” he said.
Husain said the tsunami victims may struggle specifically with fears of water. He has already heard stories of victims waking up in the middle of the night and running to high ground.
The affected countries do not have enough mental health workers, making the team’s work even more important.
“Once the initial euphoria of survival passes on, they’ll have to confront their losses,” Husain said. “They will miss their loved ones … and that is when the depression and sadness and hopelessness sets in, and I think it’s already beginning.”
The team, part of the MU International Center for Psychosocial Trauma, will conduct workshops in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, as well as Jakarta, Indonesia.
Husain was scheduled to leave Wednesday evening; Bauer and Dewein will meet him in Sri Lanka on Monday.
“Our efforts, with limited resources, are a drop in the bucket,” Husain said. “But if the psychological help is not provided to these people, particularly children, the affects will haunt them for the rest of their lives.”
The team will conduct a program called “Teachers as Therapists” and hopes to train 150 teachers in the two cities, according to Husain.
The psychologists will interview children in front of the teachers. The group then learns together how to trace and correct any mental problems.
Once trained, these teachers can act as therapists to their own students and spread their knowledge to fellow teachers.
Using several techniques, teachers can help children deal with nightmares, flashbacks and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that could become chronic if not treated.
“They can clean up the debris and rebuild the hotels, but there will still be a lot of people suffering from the trauma,” Bauer said.
Bauer’s previous work with the team has been in war-torn areas.
“Each situation is the same in many ways and different in other ways,” she said. The main difference on this trip is there’s no enemy, she said.
The team hopes to go back to the areas three or four times a year to continue the program, he said.
“There’s always so much to be done that we always come home feeling like we’ve just scratched the surface,” Bauer said.
Even with support from the community, Husain said, the team still lacks full funding, and the psychologists are paying their own way.
Tax-deductible donations for this trip or future trips can be made to the International Medical and Educational Trust, 2602 Johnson Drive, Columbia.