Saturday, October 18, 2008

Psychologist is wrong on critical incident stress debriefings

Stephen Perrott could not be more wrong on this.

Psychologist: Crisis debriefings may actually cause stress

By BRIAN MEDEL Yarmouth Bureau
Sat. Oct 18 - 5:13 AM
YARMOUTH — Post-traumatic stress disorder is real, but expecting most people will experience it after a crisis is often not realistic, says a clinical psychologist.

The disorder often results from witnessing traumatic events, said Stephen Perrott, a psychology professor at Mount Saint Vincent University and a former Halifax police officer.

Critical incident stress debriefings are done routinely nowadays, Dr. Perrott said this week at an emergency planning conference in Yarmouth. People are even "forced into mass debriefing situations," he said.

"If you have a suicide in a school, they’re rushing in grief counsellors, and pretty soon, you’re getting pictures on the TV of 14- and 15-year-old girls crying hysterically, hanging on to each other," Dr. Perrott said. "People have gone in and caused a problem where there wasn’t one."

He said he wasn’t criticizing crisis and grief-counselling teams but just seeking a balance, keeping in mind that a negative psychological reaction is not a bad thing but a sign of health.

It’s not much different with adults who have been through a troubling situation.

"Sometimes we may be too quick to respond to people when they would cope by themselves OK; people are generally quite resilient," Dr. Perrott said.

"As a former police officer, the point I made was that we’ve come a long way from 30 years ago when police officers were exposed to very traumatic situations and nobody was concerned at all about the possibility of them having a negative psychological reaction, to a situation today where we are keenly aware of the possibility of a negative psychological reaction.

"Sometimes we may push too hard to get people to come forward with expressions of distress when in fact they are not feeling very distressed at all. By pushing and needling, sometimes we might get a negative psychological reaction (and) almost like an interrogation, kind of push them over the edge."
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When people experience traumatic events, most of them need to talk it out. It's as simple as that. It helps them overcome the abnormal. Crisis intervention is not about PTSD only, but it is about taking care of people who have experienced something that is not part of normal life.

I am not a psychologist, just a humble Chaplain who has been involved in traumatic events, especially when it comes to veterans for 26 years. I've seen all kinds of problems and reviewed all kinds of ways people can help others. The problem is, too many psychologists do not understand trauma any better than they understand PTSD.

The simplest way to explain the common knowledge of talking after trauma is death. Every time someone dies in a family, they are surrounded by people available to talk to. The family leans on each other as well as friends and neighbors. They are able to talk to a willing, caring ear for at least a week following the tragedy of loosing someone they loves. This happened to my own family last week when my brother died at the age of 56.

The first responders arrived to help my brother and they knew my niece. At the hospital, they were helped by a hospital Chaplain. My niece called me from the hospital to let me know what happened. Being in Florida when my family needed me back in Massachusetts was extremely difficult. I booked the flight out that night. Between the time my brother died and the time I arrived, my sister-in-law and two nieces were surrounded by family, friends and neighbors.

There were phone calls to make and funeral arrangements to make. Each and every step, there was the opportunity to talk and share what we were going through. With every phone call to notify people close to my brother, there was the opportunity to talk. At the funeral home, we were once again embraced by the funeral director who had taken care of all of my family members in the past, far too many. At the wake we were embraced again by family and friends as well as at the funeral itself. After the funeral, according to Greek Tradition, we shared a meal with the people who attended the funeral, again, being surrounded by people who cared about us.

When someone in our family dies, it is assumed by all that they need support and comfort. They need to have the opportunity to talk, cry, share and be comforted. When someone witnesses a traumatic event when someone else dies, they are often forgotten about yet they need the same kind of opportunity to cry, talk, share and be comforted the same way the family of the deceased does.

I've heard all kinds of situations when Chaplains arrived on scene of a tragic event. Witnesses need someone to take care of them the same way the responders do. They are not forced to talk or anything else, but they are provided with the opportunity to do so and allowed acknowledgement that they too have suffered a tragedy.

Crisis intervention does not eliminate PTSD but it does reduce the rate of it by providing people with opportunity to seek what they need. It is common knowledge that to be alone after a tragedy is the worst thing to have to go through.

Senior Chaplain Kathie Costos
International Fellowship of Chaplains
"The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation." - George Washington

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