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Psychological treatment needed to assist families of ferry victims
APRIL 22, 2014 01:46  
The Katrina, the powerful hurricane that hit southern regions of the U.S., including Louisiana and Mississippi in August 2005, was the biggest ever natural disaster that killed over 1,200 deaths. The Katrina exposed problems such as lack of relief supplies and delays in treatment. Since it was forecast in advance, however, authorities and people were able to thoroughly prepare for the disaster. Three to four states took brunt of damage from the Katrina, but as many as 1,400 emergency shelters were put in place in 31 states, enabling 450,000 people to take treatment.

Majority of emergency shelters were installed exclusively for treatment of psychological trauma. The psychological treatment centers were constructed jointly by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the American Red Cross (ARC). ARC is running a disaster response network (DRN) with assistance from the American Psychiatric Association since 1992. DRN is a facility that trains certified mental treatment specialists in different states, who are deployed immediately in the event of a disaster. As DRN consists of professional psychotherapists, it instantly sets up guidelines for mental treatment conducive to the characteristics of the accident in question, and promptly deploys psychotherapists to treatment centers. When the Katrina hit, guidelines were put in place only two days after the disaster.

The guidelines, dubbed "psychological first aid (PFA)," were distributed to more than 200 sites that were affected by the hurricane, and benefited more than 180,000 people with treatment. The guidelines consist of eight-point core actions, namely contact and engagement, safety and comfort, stabilization, information gathering, practical assistance, connection with socials supports, information on coping, and linkage with collaborative services.

The guidelines are designed to give four-phase treatment according to mental conditions of the victims, including pre-disaster phase (before disaster), shock phase (immediately after disaster), response phase (around 72 hours), and recovery phase (thereafter). The most important phase among these is response phase, and refers to the period when psychological shock among family members of victims peaks as tallies of casualties are announced in succession and process is taken to confirm the identities of the bodies. Family members of the victims in the Sewol fall under this phase of psychological shock.

Psychological treatment is conducted in diverse and productive ways. To enable authorities to gather DNA evidence from toothbrushes and hair strains, PFA provides victims families with training and counseling, and if victims want, PFA even puts in place massage therapists and spiritual healers. It also conducts training designed to help families of victims overcome sorrow. The recovery phase supports families to prevent them from suffering depression or drug addiction by providing a long-term assistance.

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