Mini Lecture of Congress Chair & Large Group Session (for Professionals)

Disaster, Trauma and Expertise

     Lecturer & Condutor : Hidefumi Kotani, Ph.D. (Professor, International Christian University)

Language: English and Japanese (Japanese and English translation available)  


Huge natural disasters cannot be separated from man-made disasters. People may experience a threat that can lead in a short time to their own collapse, the collapse of their familiar world, and they suffer trauma as a result. Under such circumstances, people often make heroic sacrifices for mutual aid, and rescue operations are mounted from non-stricken areas to aid the victims of the disaster as they seek to cope with their situation. As a matter of fact, people in East Japan, especially in Tohoku (northeastern area of Japan), have been doing very well over the last year and a half in providing mutual aid aimed at reviving ordinary life. No-one would deny the fact. Although everyone did as much as they could, we could not resign ourselves to the fate of our own man-made disaster. Serious problems with nuclear power along with business “conspiracies” brought about great suffering and trauma. It is also true that some well-meaning rescue professionals were an additional source of great suffering and trauma. Many of us, as professional psychologists, psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, nurses, school teachers, and administrators, are now recognizing that we ourselves might have been perceived as disastrous intruders by the victims of the natural disaster. In fact, many human errors coupled with our devoted rescue activities resulted in secondary and tertiary levels of trauma for some of the victims. Moreover, rescue professionals and volunteers have been suffering as a result of their own well-meaning but misguided acts.

There is another difficult problem I face related to people’s perception of the stricken area. What is the stricken area? Is the stricken area only the area where survivors saw the tsunami sweeping away human bodies, or is it only the area within 20 km of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant? I see 30 or more people every two weeks at a free clinical center in Sendai. They hardly make an effort to try to talk about their own disastrous experiences even though they are hurting very much. Everyone says “I felt guilty and could not talk about my little things because I was not in the stricken area at the time of 3.11.” Even after people burst into tears and talk about their experiences for the first time, it is really hard for them to identify themselves as hurting victims. There seem to be so many such people who are denying their suffering, their secondary or tertiary disasters, and who have not been receiving needed psychological care. The black rain that fell in Hiroshima was a mark of the area stricken by the nuclear disaster. The area affected by black rain is still a matter of controversy and has yet to be resolved. This is also a man-made difficulty.

Professional services are desperately needed for these psychological difficulties. We share both great difficulties and great possibilities in our professional contribution to trauma work. Let us now engage in the academic and clinical work of this important conference.