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Swedish psychologist warns of amateur crisis groups

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16:45 CET+01:00

A leading psychologist has warned about the dangers of well-meaning but amateurish support groups supporting those affected by the catastrophy in Asia. Birgit Lundin told Dagens Nyheter that "it can be a dangerous route - crisis management demands professional leadership".

Her comments were based on her experience with the tragic bus accident in Norway's Mäbödalen in 1988 where a large group of children and adults from Kista died.

"I understand that many want to help their fellow human beings, but to think that you can hold support sessions based on simple empathy is not enough," she said.

"A therapeutic session demands a certain technique for structuring thoughts and feelings, a long term commitment, sometimes for years."

Last year the government appointed Anders Milton to overhaul the Swedish mental care system in the wake of a number of high profile incidents involving patients in psychiatric care.

As president of the Swedish Red Cross, Milton asked the government to make additional mental health funds available for local and provincial authorities in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

"I think we need the extra funds after this catastrophy," commented Milton to TT on a visit to Phuket.

"The needs of the Swedish victims will increase the pressures on the already heavily burdened mental care system."

So far the government has not responded to his concerns.

Many local authorities have so-called ‘Posom' groups, (psychological and social support and care), with representatives from social services, emergency services, the church and the health services. There are also PKL groups, for example at Arlanda and the main hospitals in Stockholm.

Those who need special additional psychological support are referred to St. Görans Hospital. Speaking to TT, Britta Rundström, Director of the Swedish Local and Provincial authorities association said, "The contacts that we have had with at different local levels show they are well prepared to take care of the returning Swedes."

However, according to Dagens Medicin, the National Skills Centre for Trauma Psychology in Uppsala has recently produced a report that says that half of all local authories are not geared up to deal with the psychological support for a catastrophy of this nature.

Four out of every ten Swedes know someone who was affected by the tsunami, and out of the remaining six, there will be others in need of some sort of support.

Kerstin Bergh Johannesson of the National Skills centre for Trauma Psychology believes that "the provincial authorities need to be prepared to screen those who return very carefully, so that high risk patients can be offered proper help".

The question remains whether the system will be able to meet those needs once urgent treatment is diagnosed.

In the meantime, Ann Charlotte Marteus ended a commentary in Expressen by reminding readers that "grieving people need to be seen. They don't want to be enveloped in a quiet avoiding politeness. We don't have to be afraid to be clumsy. As long as we honestly know our motivation, and know that we want to help those who grieve and nothing else, then our goodwill will shine through".

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, TT, Expressen, Dagens Medicin

Lysanne Sizoo

Lysanne Sizoo is a certified Counsellor, specialising in bereavement, fertility and cultural assimilation issues. She also runs a support and discussion group for English speaking women. You can contact her on sizoo@swipnet.se, or 08 717 3769. More information on www.sizoo.nu.

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