Somatic Experiencing in Hong Kong and China

CHERP 中國地震緩解計劃 - Letter from the Earthquake Zone? Jiangyou - July 31

Rob Blinn - Thu Jul 31, 2008 11:24 pm
Post subject: Letter from the Earthquake Zone? Jiangyou - July 31
We are back in the classroom again for the second half of Phase Two. On Tuesday we made our first trip here to Jiangyou. Before we reached the training site, we stopped at the local psychiatric hospital as they are supplying some of the trainees from their staff. We were told that the training would not be held at the hospital here as it had been partially destroyed by the earthquake. The Director of the Mianyang Psychiatric Hospital pointed out where the destruction was, and also stated that some of the work here is being done in tents and that the tents are also used as hospital rooms for the patients. This disaster has permeated through every level of society here. Medical personnel are not excluded, and as I stated last week, 50% of all medical personnel in Beichuan perished in the earthquake. Many medical personnel feel burdened by both primary and secondary traumatic stress. This statistic really hit home with our group when we went to the ridge overlooking the city of Beichuan and viewed the destruction of the city.

Despite being only about 40 kilometers from Mianyang, the destruction is much greater here and tents line every street. In addition to the survivors from Jiangyou, many survivors from other areas were re-located here. As it is estimated that there are approximately 5 million people homeless because of the earthquake, there are tents everywhere and in every city in the earthquake zone. There is only limited running water and people see at night using candlelight.

Since the completion of the first half of Phase Two last week, interest has built in the program and we could have trained 2-3 times the number of trainees that we have reached in this program. Once trainees see demonstrations of how powerful somatic work can be, they are eager to learn and use the methods themselves. The three volunteers (graduate students in psychology) who are working with children in the Beichuan relocation camps that we mentioned last week saw the value of the work we are doing and were able to join the second training. There are a lot of volunteers we have met who are hungry to learn. We have continually heard that although there have been many trainings; the other trainings really lack the hands-on training and mentoring that our program is offering.

Today we are back in the classroom and training is focused on interactive exercises for trainees and then demonstrations by the trainers of how our techniques work in reducing trauma. Because of the significant interest in the training, one of our biggest challenges has been limiting the number of trainees so that the value of the training is not diluted for those who are participating. We have been reaching more people than we expected though, as we are letting larger groups take part in the didactic sections of the program and then limiting student interventions to the originally planned 24 trainees.

It is gratifying to see the trainees gradually understand the concepts and techniques we are teaching and then begin to apply them in work with patients. Working with the body doesn’t exclude other trauma techniques but is rather the center of any good treatment for trauma, we are confident that professionals and volunteers here will be more ready to intervene with victims of the earthquake.

The way the trainees are learning to help children are somewhat revolutionary and related to play therapy. If you think about it, you can’t really sit down and discuss the earthquake with a 6 year-old and in fact, it might make their symptoms worse by going over them again and again. Ale Duarte, one of our trainers who is originally from Brazil, has developed many interactive therapeutic games. Such games are used to help children discharge energy that was locked-up because of the earthquake and to help children regain a bodily sense of safety. One such game is “The Wolf Comes at Midnight.”

The game which Ale had trainees participate in, starts with the facilitator telling the participants that a wolf is coming at midnight, that he is the wolf, that there are certain zones where everyone will be safe from the wolf. This game in children brings up activation that is similar to that brought up in the earthquake. Children report that their hearts are beating quickly, and they look exited and slightly fearful. The facilitators and trainees working with the participants help them identify bodily sensations associated with this activation. This will help them discharge the activation and feel more “grounded.” The game also works by having the participants identify how it feels in their bodies to reach a sense of safety. The game is done in stages and children thus have time to make a safety plan and anticipate what they might do when the wolf comes. This is something they were unable to do before the earthquake and helps them feel that they have resources that were unavailable when the earthquake happened. Ale states that when a traumatic event happens, the child’s lack of time reduces his or her choice options and the skills that may be needed to make a successful escape. These therapeutic games help the child regain a sense in his or her body that he or she can cope and not get “stuck” or “frozen” in the trauma. Last week we saw these principles in action in the Beichuan relocation camps, as children were led through various activities and were able to discharge some of the traumatic activation related to the earthquake.

Rob Blinn, Ph.D.
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