What helps communities heal after devastation? You might be surprised to hear that a lot of psychologists are saying it’s actually not only talk-therapy that heals a community. Talk-therapy can help. For some. But, importantly, talk-therapy is not the only answer to resolving mental health challenges. In fact, sometimes, talking can even cause more harm.
When, or how, can talk-therapy cause more harm? Mainly, those kinds of pain can occur when a survivor feels forced or obligated to recall details about what happened when they would prefer not to. This is important to keep in mind when the survivor may be someone who feels it is important to please others. Then, of course, there are those people who process through talking. That's why, when caring for survivors of trauma or disaster, it is important to listen to the survivor and to lean into the art of care, which strives to honor the person who is hurting.
Traumatologists say, it’s important to listen carefully to how a survivor may want to proceed. When a survivor is not sure of the next step, experts say let them know the range of resource options that are available to them, without forcing.
Recently, traumatologist and director of the Anna Freud Centre for Children and Families, Peter Fonagy, said: “After a crisis like the Manchester bombing or London Bridge, the worst thing you can do is parachute a bunch of mental-health professionals in there to try and talk to young people about what had happened. It does harm, it prevents the person from coming to a natural accommodation.” Rather, he says, it is a child’s relationship with friends, family, teachers, coaches, and community leaders that can be most helpful. “I’m fond of saying that adversity turns into trauma when you experience your mind as being alone. If you have good relationships they actually help you assimilate that experience.”
How can you foster these relationships in the aftermath of community-wide devastation? One way is to encourage a variety of local therapists to be in touch with one another. These therapists may include talk-therapists, as well as art therapists, somatic therapists, physical therapists, music therapists, and nutritionists. For example, they may work together to assess evolving community needs on a regular basis. Some also find it helpful to create therapeutic one-stop shops for some time, or at periodic times in the first year or two after a disaster.
Perhaps you know of other forms of therapeutic care. What are some of the ways your community fosters creates opportunities for healing after great heartache? Share your best tips in the comments below!