I live in Austin, Texas, and we just got our toes dipped in a small part of Hurricane Harvey, but we also watched from the sidelines as our friends and family in Houston and coastal areas were slammed by the terror of the possibility, if not the reality, of losing everything—homes, cars, and belongings, along with memories and a sense of security and safety.
It is this latter concept of losing security and safety which I think is the hardest to cope with psychologically. Having experienced such devastation in such short order is clearly and literally “having the rug pulled out from beneath your feet.” To have this done in such a large scale is further disorientating and catastrophic. Fear and shock dominate the psyche. Knowing where, or having the capacity, to begin to move forward is blocked by the enormity of insecurity.
Will life move on? Of course. But it will not look or feel the same for a very long time. That’s where mental health professionals come in. The trauma endured by so many in these circumstances is much more indelible, beyond the first few weeks or months. PTSD will be prevalent for many for years to come.
Recovery mentally will be a much slower process than regaining physical and financial losses. Feeling safe again is the struggle. The job for therapists, therefore, is to begin the process of recreating safety and security for our clients who have had such trauma.
It is my belief that we can best do that by honoring them as full human beings who have lost so much, rather than just “refugees.” The differentiation I’m making here at first glance may seem subtle, but categorization and labeling is an easy pitfall. This is even more pronounced when we are working with the poor or indigent. Human nature can often trick us into the trap of stereotyping, albeit unwittingly. But intentional acceptance and focusing on a respectful framework allows us to move in a way that can create safety for everyone we serve.
Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.