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Recovery After the Tsunami: Timeline for Rehabilitation

Richard A. Bryant, PhD

Published: February 15, 2006

Article Abstract

In the aftermath of the Asian tsunami, there is potentially a large, traumatized population in need of psychosocial support, but determining which individuals require psychological intervention and knowing how and when to treat them may be the key to positive long-term outcomes. The early identification of people at high risk of developing subsequent psychiatric disorders from among those experiencing a transient stress reaction following trauma is often the initial step in the recovery process. Clinical instruments for screening and/or predicting those most at risk are available and require validating for cultural and linguistic sensitivity. Timely treatment is essential, since inappropriately targeted therapy can compromise recovery and may even exacerbate posttraumatic stress symptoms, particularly if treatment is initiated before grief reactions have subsided. Finally, appropriate treatment interventions, which incorporate cognitive-behavioral therapy and prolonged exposure, offer the best current therapeutic options for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder and associated comorbid conditions such as anxiety, depression, and grief. However, since most of the supportive data for the psychosocial consequences of trauma were obtained from small-scale studies of discrete trauma events in Western countries, it may not be possible to extrapolate these findings to a large-scale natural disaster in Asia, such as the Asian tsunami. More data are required to assist in the development of strategies for the effective management of the psychological consequences of trauma worldwide, with emphasis on creating mental health strategies that are culturally sensitive and valid for various trauma events and disaster scenarios.

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