Timing critical in trauma counselling

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The Australian Psychological Society is calling on its members to make themselves available to assist with trauma counselling following the tsunami tragedy. The Society is liaising with government and other aid agencies to develop a coordinated response to the disaster and warns of the dangers of rushing in too soon.

"The tendency to respond to a disaster with a knee-jerk reaction that involves counsellors being unnecessarily present can make a difficult time much more difficult for survivors. Australia is well-resourced in being able to provide expert counselling at the proper time and in the proper context," according to trauma specialist, Professor Richard Bryant, from the University of New South Wales.

"Research conducted in the wake of previous disasters indicates that most people are resilient and that their natural social supports are sufficient to help them adapt. The normal pattern is for most people to adapt after several weeks or months, and only a minority of people will be significantly affected in the long term," says Bryant.

"Numerous studies tell us that providing early counselling (often called debriefing) does not limit subsequent psychological problems in people. In fact, there is some evidence that imposing counselling on people immediately after trauma may worsen their stress reaction," says Bryant.

It is also vital that volunteers offering counselling services are appropriately qualified and experienced in dealing with trauma says APS President, Amanda Gordon. "Australians have suffered in the past when organisations have called for volunteers to offer counselling because counsellors have come out of the woodwork and there has been no control over the quality or content of the counselling provided.

"The APS is in the prime position to assist in providing access to fully qualified and registered psychologists and thus is working with our members, other psychological associations in the affected countries, government and aid agencies to ensure that the correct support is offered; that is, therapy approaches that have proven effectiveness in helping people cope with traumatic experiences, at the appropriate time to maximise the benefits," says Gordon.

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For more information or to arrange an interview with Richard Bryant or Amanda Gordon:

Elaine Grant
Communications Manager
Australian Psychological Society
Tel: 03 8662 3300
Email: e.grant@psychology.org.au

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