Priest stresses calamity victims’ need for psychological counseling

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MANILA, Jan. 30, 2014—Food and shelter are not the only necessities that victims of recent calamities must acquire. The need for psychological counseling is also an “integral component” in helping traumatized victims rebuild their lives, a Catholic priest said.

Fr. Carlos Ronquillo, Director of the Saint Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute in the Philippines, noted that aside from providing relief efforts, it is also important to facilitate “psychosocial intervention” among victims of natural calamities.

“Letting people tell their story should be an integral component in responding to disaster situations like typhoon (Yolanda),” Ronquillo said in his interview with the Vatican radio, referring to Super Typhoon Yolanda which struck Central Visayas last November.

The death toll from Super Typhoon Yolanda rose to 6,201 as of January 29, with 28,626 injured and 1,785 still missing, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

“What the church has been used to is the temporal approach…which is understandable because people are desperate, people are in need, and the immediate needs to be attended would definitely be food (and shelter since) most of them have lost homes,” Ronquillo said.

“But we have failed to recognize that in this situation; (the people) did not only lose their homes. They lost many of their family members and that is more traumatic than losing (in) poverty,” he said.

“And precisely for that reason…psychological intervention should be…an integral component (of disaster response) from hereon…. Without any psychological intervention, our response as church would still be deficient,” he added.

Lasting impact 

Ronquillo, who participated in various relief efforts, noted that individuals who suffered from the devastation brought by different calamities yearn to “share their story” to others who are willing to listen and sympathize with their situation.

“It is precisely an affirmation on our part that when we organize this mission of religious people, Catholic men and women from the southern Philippines, we believe that (psychological intervention) should be an integral component of any effort that should be done by the church in responding to disaster situations,” he said.

The priest noted that the “psychological component” of relief efforts could bear lasting impact to the lives of people, especially during the point when they are left on their own to rebuild their lives.

“The moment (these people) are left on their own, the effect of (these disasters) would be horrible,” Ronquillo said, noting the trauma brought by natural calamities to the mentality of people. “When the rain starts falling, many of them become afraid. They do not know how to manage their fear.”

He stressed the importance of psychological counseling to individuals who are in the process of rising up from the shambles brought by disasters.

“Just come to think of it, a big number of children and adults having gone through the traumatic experience of saving themselves from the surges and seeing their relatives dying or disappearing. How do you locate that experience and where would they get the resources to be able to handle that?” Ronquillo asked.

“Definitely, not the relief and food response. There’s got to be a certain story telling. There’s got to be a certain accompaniment, which would enable them to face up to the shadows that they have experienced through that disaster,” he said.

“There’s got to be something that we could offer (these people) beyond the traditional response that we give them,” he added.

Untapped resource 

Ronquillo noted that psychological counseling can be included in different church relief efforts through religious individuals who “have gained expertise” on psychological counseling due to the long years they have rendered in the ministry.

“What is concrete reality among the religious is that they have this resource within them—religious formation from different congregations and orders often [include] psychological processing,” he said.

He urged religious members of the church to “refine, repackage, and bring this resource in the service of those who are most in need.”

“What is important is how you harness this resource that’s there, untapped, from our many religious priests, sisters, and brothers,” Ronquillo said, noting that true healing could only be achieved once they are able to break walls and help victims share their stories. (Jennifer Orillaza)

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