A year later, N.J. mental health workers still support Japanese therapists in healing

    Sunday marks the first anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan that killed nearly 16,000 people.

    To help affected families cope with the loss and trauma, a team of New Jersey mental health professionals trained Japanese therapists in a treatment approach developed specifically for children.

    Esther Deblinger of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey developed the approach called “trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy.”

    Simply put, it refocuses the way struggling children think about a traumatic event. Deblinger says children tend to think that bad things happened because of something they did.

    “We really try to identify them and catch them early, and try to help children think about these experiences in healthier ways, while actively involving their parents in a similar process,” she said.

    Parents or caregivers and children talk about the traumatic event together, and develop coping strategies.

    Deblinger and her team trained 10 visiting Japanese therapists last year, shortly after the earthquake ravaged the country.

    She says she drew on her experience in working with survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

    The approach transcends cultural barriers and works well worldwide, she said.

    “There are subtle differences in the way that the therapist may interact with people from different cultures but, overall, our experience has been that this treatment model is very effective with children and families across many different cultures around the world,” Deblinger said.

    Deblinger and her team have stayed in touch with their Japanese colleagues to provide ongoing support.

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