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March 2005

Trauma therapy

- In conversation with Carel

The World Health Organization has said that nearly all the people affected by the tsunami that hit southern Asia last month will suffer some form of trauma


As many as nine out of ten survivors who have lived through the December 26 tsunamis are likely to suffer from some form of psychological trauma, experts have warned. The damage is not confined to various problems like acute shock and depression which need immediate attention, but extend to post-traumatic stress disorder which can last for years. To help tsunami victims combat the severe psychological trauma, as many as 26,000 volunteers in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Tamil Nadu are being trained by counsellors from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences in Bangalore .

Since the second week after the tsunami struck, an Auroville Trauma Counselling team has been going out daily to listen, talk and provide a human touch to traumatized residents of the surrounding villages. The team is assisted by a child psychiatrist from Canada and Dr. Tara from Chennai; three people from each affected village are being trained as counsellors, backed up by an Auroville support team. The more serious and chronic cases will be referred to the nearby medical institute, PIMS, which has agreed to provide treatment free of cost. To empower a much larger trauma-relief effort, a group of 80 women, men and youth has been selected and offered an eight-day disaster and trauma counselling training. In order to give special attention to children, each school in the surrounding villages is encouraged to appoint one teacher who is offered an intensive four-day training in order to be able to identify affected children, offer counselling and pass on the acquired skills to other teachers. Auroville's Trauma Counselling team will keep on monitoring the situation, offer ongoing training and will establish a library of relevant disaster-trauma related materials.

In Auroville, a handful of people are helping tsunami victims. One of them is Uli at workUlrich Hartmann, a German Aurovilian who first was trained as a medical practitioner in Germany , then studied with Native American Navajo and Hopi shamans in Sedona , Arizona , and afterwards did four years' training as a healer from the International Network of Esoteric Healing.

His approach to healing, in consequence, is not traditional. Asked for a definition of ‘trauma' he gives his own version. “Trauma is an emotional wound or shock whereby parts of a person's higher being or personality are shut off, leaving the body to continue with its basic functions, reactions, and instincts, but without giving access to the usual emotions. People report that at the moment of the tragedy they had no feelings; they just knew what they had to do and did exactly that. The other parts of their personality were blocked out. This happens in order to protect the being, so that it is not emotionally or mentally damaged by the immense energy of the catastrophe. At that moment the person works on a hidden reservoir of energy inside the body, which enables them to do more than normal. People in stress situations have been know to lift 1 tonne! So the immediate reaction to a shock situation like this, where a wave of water is hitting your house and you are about to drown, is you lose all your connections and the basic survival instinct takes over. Many people report that at the event itself, they were pretty cool.

“But then comes the time, usually after a few weeks, where those other parts ‘come back' to re-integrate into the being. That causes often a bigger shock than when the accident happened. People report about flashbacks, reliving the entire catastrophe but now with the emotional part of the personality. Then the full impact of the catastrophe hits. Many people then have a breakdown. After that first flashback, others usually follow, but their impact might be less severe.

“The difficulty for many victims is that they do not understand what is happening. Not only are they struggling with flashbacks, but often their entire way of being is different from what they were before. Sometimes they behave like adolescents and are impulsive or unpredictable. Outbursts of happiness can alternate with bouts of crying or fits of anger, all in the span of a few hours. They are emotionally messed up, and one of my first tasks as a healer is to get them to accept that they are as they are. I tell them that whatever happens is appropriate, that nothing in the way of their functioning or non-functioning is inappropriate. The second thing that I tell them is that they should not put more stress on themselves saying ‘that this will go away soon' or things like that. It will take the time it needs.

“A main difficulty is in their relation to the outside world. For the victims, it is very hard if not impossible to explain that they are not what they were before the catastrophe. The outside world hardly ever understands the issue. They judge by the outer behaviour, and when they see the victim being happy, they think that everything is all right again. But that is most often not the case, and the victims, sensing this attitude, react by avoiding going in public. They need taken care of by professionals in a loving surrounding.

“Some Aurovilians, too, do not show understanding. The victims complain about people coming to them with unsolicited advice or offers, which put them under more stress than they are suffering already. Others project their own emotional problems on them, or even ask for help, which is equally inappropriate. Friends and relatives, in sympathy with the victims, experience their own helplessness with the situation and have a tendency to forcefully express that frustration – but they do not realise that in doing so they are in fact offloading their stress onto the victim. The family and friends and well-wishers should understand that the most precious gift they can make to the victims is to give them space so that they can work out what they need to work out.”

At present Uli is helping about eight people with their healing. Asked about his approach, he answers that he first calls on the divine presence. “I ask a few questions, and then I concentrate on the soul of the client and his or her higher programmes, on my own inner being and on the combination of these two entities. After that I go through the person's seven main chakras and some side chakras to feel for imbalances. If there is something, I concentrate and offer light and love. After a while there is usually some resonance, often reported as a big relief, and then something magical happens which I do not understand myself very well. It is as if a channel for a higher consciousness to act is being opened, which aids the healing process. That higher consciousness connects to the person's inner consciousness, and the knowledge of how to heal him or herself comes forward – even if the person is not able to express that properly.”

Uli's way of healing does not concentrate on only asking a victim to talk about and revisit the catastrophe, which is the catharsis method used in some trauma therapies. “It is part of the process to look back, but I see the emotional pains as so many wounds that are bleeding and need treatment. They have to be acknowledged, but the victim has to learn not to see them as the dominant event of his or her life, but as only a part of the life. There should be no clinging to the disaster. The disaster has to be acknowledged, for if you do not acknowledge it, the person will always carry this wound along and it will drain his or her system. The acknowledgment itself creates the openness for healing, for the higher consciousness to descend and help.”

Dealing with traumas is an in-depth process and often deeper and ancient traumas surface. Uli confirms that all his patients are reporting meaningful incidents which happened early in their life. “This one incident is helping to unravel others that helped form the personality. Seen from that perspective a trauma is a gift – for it allows the person to look at issues that remained hidden for years. Harsh as it may sound, it may be a help to move closer to one's soul.”

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