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Counselors help Sichuan heal
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She said it might take at least a year for people to come to terms with losing someone they had known for five years. No one knows how long it might take those who lost family.

That is why for the past seven months, the CAS team has been pondering and experimenting with different ways to replace victims' fears with hopes.

They started with comforting and educating schoolteachers, as they would directly influence the way their students would cope.

Then they began mental health education courses students could attend on Friday afternoons.

By participating in group discussions and activities, students learn to rally together when facing difficult situations, Zhang said.

"The key is to make them feel they are part of a group and are not alone. That way, they may open their hearts, diminishing the pressure they feel."

Participants would also receive counselors' phone numbers, ensuring help was just a phone call away.

"That is how we identify the severely affected students who need to talk privately," Zhang said, adding the counselors must seek these kids out, because some are too shy to speak up on their own.

But some forms of philanthropic support with negative consequences have compromised the counselors' work.

Receiving donations covered with advertisements makes some students feel companies are using them for public relations purposes, Zhang said, adding some firms seem to have taken advantage of the disaster to polish their images.

"Students complain to me that they often receive exceptionally large outfits that are obviously not intended for students," she said.

"They feel hurt. And those donations are constantly reminding them they are quake victims who need public sympathy.

"I think more reason and love is needed in such public support; otherwise, it will only harm the students.

"In a way, we all should assume responsibility for the successful psychological healing of quake victims."

Zhang also said the number of professional mental health counselors in the quake zone is limited, and more are needed.

Huang Guoping, doctor of clinical psychology and director of the Psychological Crisis Intervention Center at Mianyang's No. 3 People's Hospital, agreed.

Developing a nationwide network for psychological counseling and intervention is needed, because there has been an acute shortage of professional counselors who can really address quake victims' needs, he said.

"That could be achieved by promoting mental health education among the public and improving professional workers' training," Huang said.

"Once the public cultivates a proper understanding of psychological counseling, they will come to us when they face problems. And we also need professionals who are actually doctors to heal their wounds."

(China Daily December 31, 2008)

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