Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Tsunami...and Emotional Regulation

Speaking of the crisis in Japan, a recent CNN article reported, "Even after rescue, survivors struggle to come to grips with disaster." The Japanese people (and TV viewers all around the world) are grappling with the reality of death and loss. Many people are experiencing intense and crippling emotions.

Culture impacts how these emotions are regulated. Japanese culture is given to a strong sense of community pride and strength, Dr. Makino shares. While the Japanese word hone means honesty, tatemae means what is actually verbalized in an attempt to "save face." In a situation of crisis, tatemae always wins.

In a culture where it is shameful to appear weak and needy, it seems that many survivors are regulating emotion the best they know how--by denying the impact of trauma and belittling their powerful feelings. Because Japanese culture does not foster emotional regulation skills, survivors are having an especially difficult time responding to the tsunami crisis in a healthy manner that promotes psychological healing.

But the trauma is not just in Japan. Noting the impact among TV viewers, the APA suggests a plan for how Americans can manage personal distress triggered by watching footage of and hearing about the tsunami. Technical words aside, the APA is basically laying out guidelines for emotional regulation, noting the power of how emotions are handled in overall psychological health.

As future counselors, it is critical to note the impact of culture on how people experience and regulate emotion, as well as the emotional impact of events all the way across the world on the emotions people experience even here in the U.S. While no two people experience emotion in the same way, psychoeducational training like the APA provides can give people a framework for responding to trauma.

The crisis in Japan shows that, even in a fairly non-emotional culture, trauma has a way of activating deep, even overwhelming feelings. Often, people come to counseling in a time of crisis, whether it is environmental, like the situation in Japan, or interpersonal. It is our priviledge (and challenge) as counselors to validate and explore our clients' emotional worlds and help them develop strategies to integrate their emotional experience into their daily reality.

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