Helping Yolanda Survivors Find Wellness, Wholeness, Growth and Healing
Disasters impact strongly on the whole being of the individuals, groups and families affected. This means that disasters not only harm the physical health and economic stability of victims. It also affects their mental, spiritual, social and emotional well-being.
The good news is that the majority of survivors can pull themselves together and deal with the aftermath, especially if they are provided psychosocial support.
Psychosocial Support in the field of disaster mental health (referred to as MHPSS as representing mental health and psychosocial support or MHPSS) are strategies and programs that seek to help individuals, families and communities (i) rebound from crisis; (ii) moderate their stress reactions to disaster; (iii) resist forces towards hopelessness and destabilization, and (iv) develop strengths and competencies not only to survive, but also to grow in the face of disaster.
In the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda, the UP Diliman Department of Psychology (UPDDP) marshalled its resources and competencies to reach out to individuals, groups, and families affected by the typhoon.
A few weeks after the disaster, students from UP Visayas Tacloban College (UPVTC) started to cross enrol at the UP Diliman Campus. The UPDDP had its share of majors from UPVTC enrolling in both psychology and non-psychology subjects. There were also UPVTC students who took psychology courses as electives.
As an expression of the Department’s wish to welcome and lend support to its students from UP Tacloban, the Department hosted a welcome gathering for both their psychology majors and non-psych cross enrollees from UP Tacloban. In the welcome gathering, the UP Tacloban students made friends with UP Diliman students and faculty, were oriented on Diliman campus life, and had the opportunity to share their needs and concerns as new students in the campus who are also recovering from a disaster experience. Some of these students continue to meet with the teachers and students they had met in the welcome gathering for updates and affirmation of friendship bonds.
The Department also partnered with the Department of Computer Sciences and the Department of Biology in reaching out to students affected by Typhoon Yolanda. Volunteer faculty, graduate students and alumni of the UPDDP provided individual and/or group psychosocial processing to affected students from these departments. Through such activities, the students were able to enhance their effectiveness in dealing with life’s challenges.
Headed by the UPDDP Wellness Committee, these groups began to offer life coaching and psychotherapy sessions. Affected students and families are now discovering that seeking psychosocial support is not a sign of weakness or of psychiatric illness, but a creative and responsible way of helping oneself move forward after a most trying experience.
In response to the request of UP Diliman faculty, the UPDDP collaborated with the Office of the Director of Instruction to conduct a workshop for UP Diliman faculty members on addressing the psychosocial needs of students.
One of the venues where the Department began to reach out was Facebook. They created posts to let people know that they were providing psychological support to students and employees who have relatives living in provinces ravaged by the storm.
Aside from this, the Department also offered an intensive three-day training workshop—”Bringing Hope to Disaster Survivors: A Course on Application of Psychosocial Support in Disaster Situations.” The workshop was attended by 30 graduate students and faculty. UNILAB expressed its solidarity with the Department’s efforts at capacity building by providing free meals and snacks while the Philippine Pediatric Society gave the group free use of their seminar room and facilities.
After the workshop, some of the attendees began sharing what they learned with other colleagues so more people could help disaster victims more effectively.
More recently, relief workers from Barangay Amorsolo have asked the Department to assist them in providing care not just to the victims they were helping, but to their own staff as well. Once more, the UPDDP Wellness Committee is mobilizing its volunteer psychologists to provide community-based care for barangay workers who are feeling the strain of journeying with individuals and families who have survived Yolanda but continue to deal with the ravages that the disaster experience brings. The Department’s volunteer psychologists will also be meeting with the affected families living in the UP campus to engage them in kumustahan, a process expected to clarify the families’ psychosocial needs and the ways that they wish to be helped by friend-psychologists from the UP community. The meeting is expected to help create opportunities that will make it easier for affected individuals and communities to access psychosocial support being provided by the Department.
Seeing the need to provide an environment conducive to helping relationship not only for those affected by the Yolanda typhoon but also for those seeking growth and healing from the Department’s volunteer and professional psychologists, the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy (CSSP) has designated rooms within the Palma Hall building for psychological support and psychotherapy. These rooms will serve as places where wellness and wholeness activities will be offered for CSSP and UP campus constituents.
Even before Yolanda, the UPDDP, together with other UP units, already saw the possibility that disasters can hit a UP college or even a whole UP community such as what happened in UP Tacloban. In the spirit inspired by the framework of DRRM (Disaster Risk Reduction and Management), the UP system through UP Padayon has instituted a system-wide disaster preparedness program. The program includes a workshop on Disaster Preparedness that will be brought to different campuses of the University of the Philippines. The workshop was first conducted in UP Diliman in October 2013. The second run took place in UP Baguio, on the second week of January this year. The Department is pleased that the UP System sees the importance of including a section on MHPSS in the workshop’s curriculum. Indeed responsible preparation for disasters and true healing from the ravages of disasters necessarily require a component on learning the knowledge and skills of providing mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS).
There is a saying that “To whom much is given, much is also expected.” The faculty and students of the Department of Psychology feel that they are recipients of much blessing because of their training and competencies in helping disaster survivors. And so it is their desire to be able to use their skills to really help people find wellness, wholeness, growth and healing.
Dr. Bautista is chair of the UPDDP Wellness Committee and head of the Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program. Email her at [email protected]