MH370: Helping families deal with the trauma

MH370: Helping families deal with the trauma

The Malaysian Crisis Intervention Team has been taking an active role in providing professional psychological support for family members of those on board MH370.

The Intervention Team was set up last year after Sulu gunmen invaded Lahad Datu and Semporna and killed Malaysian security forces there.

Back then, they helped the security forces and families deal with the trauma, says its deputy chairman Dr Abdul Jalil Hassan.

This time, the crisis team is giving professional psychological support for Malaysian families who have loved ones on the missing plane. The team is stationed at Everly Hotel Putrajaya where the Malaysian families are staying.

"We were here from Day One. This is important to create trust and rapport with families," says Dr Jalil.

At times, the families need someone to be their punching bag. "We are here to be their punching bag. They are not angry with us but sometimes they look like they want to kill us but we understand.

"We are here to give them our ear and listen and allow them a safe space to release their emotions."

Dr Jalil points out that even one word can do a lot of damage so professionals avoid using words like sabar (be patient).

"As it is, the person is already being patient, so why ask him to be patient? From a young age, we are taught to not cry and to bottle up our emotions.

"But crying is a form of release. It is normal in such circumstances to feel sad and cry or feel shocked or angry."

Dr Jalil stresses that there is a difference between sympathy and empathy, and professionals know that their role is to empathise.

"Sympathy is a problem because if we sympathise, then what we are doing is taking their problems, putting them in ourselves and making them our own. That wears us down.

"With empathy, however, we feel with the families but don't internalise it as our own problem."

A debriefing session is held once a day for the counsellors so that they can get together, share and discuss their experiences, and support each other.

Some of the younger counsellors might have a tougher time, especially if they identify with someone and relate what that person is going through with their own personal life or experience.

In such cases, says Dr Jalil, the debriefing sessions for counsellors are particularly useful.

"The counsellors are all trained and professionals so they already have all the basic skills and understand the rules. We just have to remind them of the 'do's and don'ts'.

While it is a given that the family members need professional psychological support, people tend to overlook others who may be in need, like the search and rescue team or those in the line of fire like MAS CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, and DCA director-general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman who have been co-ordinating the search and rescue operations and the daily press conferences.

"Some look like they haven't slept for days. If they need us, they just have to let us know and we'll be there to provide them the service too," says Dr Jalil.

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