Experts arrive to train mental health professionals

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PESHAWAR: Mental health experts have arrived at the provincial capital and started training teams of psychologists and psychiatrists to help the parents of victims, and survivors of the Army Public School (APS) massacre.
In the first stage, the therapists will only reach out to the parents. They will initiate therapy in the second phase for children, Dr Mukhtar, the head of the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) psychiatry department, told The Express Tribune.

Approximately 1,800 parents have been identified in the first phase.

In the first training session held at the Post Graduate Medical Institute auditorium in LRH, experts explained how first contact should be initiated with parents, before reaching out to the traumatised APS students.
The teams to be trained by experts include students of the University of Peshawar psychology department, faculty from various other institutes, including the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), and doctors from Khyber Teaching Hospital and Combined Military Hospital.

Semantics of trauma

The discussion at the session highlighted the lack of existing infrastructure for holding counselling sessions. However, experts added, the psychologist and psychiatrist teams remain committed to perform well. Speakers stressed training must be extended to nurses as well.

“Resilience” must be redirected in a positive manner, participants learnt. Team members were told to focus on helping survivors and grieving families interpret “the best revenge” in an affirmative light.
Media portrayal was also a topic of discussion; speakers noted social media was being used in a negative manner after the APS assault. “The media needs to stop projecting things,” said one of the speakers.
“Certainly people want to know what happens in their city, to their people but sharing information—especially in cases like the school tragedy—needs to be done with sensitivity. There need to be standard operating procedures for the media in such circumstances,” added another speaker.

Top-down structure

Even as help pours in, Mukhtar said they want to centralise the set-up for mental health services. At least 25 mental health specialists and students are expected to arrive from Karachi, but everything needs to be channelled in the right direction.
“There will be a number of teams but we must organise it; we want one team to visit one family at a time,” he told The Express Tribune.
“We will have a core group and other groups under that umbrella. Lists of families will be divided amongst teams so all families are reached,” said the psychiatry department head. “With around 1,800 parents identified in the first phase, counselling is likely to take around six months.”

Earlier on December 18, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Marvi Memon told the media that the prime minister has issued directives for the rehabilitation of injured children and their parents. She had said a team of psychologists was going to be in the provincial capital for the purpose. The federal and provincial governments will work together so children are steered out from under the trauma, said Memon.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 25th, 2014.