Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan survivors and trauma therapy

One of my first blog posts here on Reality and Fiction was about the problematic assumption that people who have experienced a trauma should talk about it. I had read that sometimes it can be better for survivors to devote themselves to continuing their lives rather than dwelling on the past.

Now, following the disaster in Japan, another article points out similar concerns. Trauma therapists obviously believe in their methods, and motivated by a desire to help the survivors in Japan, they may actually make things worse for some individuals, who would have done better without this sort of therapy.

The article points out a few problems: first, there is a risk of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by telling survivors the sort of symptoms they can expect to experience (such as flashbacks and nightmares). Second, the therapists might not respect individuals' preference not to talk about their experience, and try to force them to "let it out". Finally, therapists coming from overseas might not be aware of the cultural differences between their culture and Japanese culture.

One of the strengths of Japanese culture, according to the article, is its collective nature. People will benefit from belonging to a cohesive social group that is recovering together.

I wish all the survivors a speedy recovery, using their own preferred recovery method, whether it is talking about their experiences and losses, or just getting on with rebuilding their normal lives.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

International Women's Day 2011

Today is International Women's Day. Its purpose is to raise awareness of the status of women around the world. This issue has many aspects, and I will share here just a few of my thoughts.

First, I have a problem with devoting a specific day each year to an issue. Anything worthwhile is worth thinking about all the time. Our consciousness is a collection of thoughts and attitudes, and it should not be necessary to raise awareness one day a year.

More generally, I am deeply grateful to be alive in a culture that treats women much more justly than in previous centuries or other current cultures. I was never at risk of being aborted or exposed at birth just for being female. I have never heard either of my parents wishing I had been a son. I received an education, developed a professional career, married a partner of my own choice, learned to drive, and I can vote in elections.

The freedoms women in western countries now take for granted were won through years of struggle. This struggle is still going on, both in societies where women are still subjugated or discriminated against, and also in western societies, where complete equality or justice for women has yet to be achieved.

It seems to me that the differences between men and women are natural and cannot be ignored. However, attitudes based on these differences can be changed. Sometimes, the individual differences between people are greater than the differences based on gender, but people still have a tendency to treat a person's gender as an important characteristic, using stereotypes rather than getting to know the individual.

The problem here is a more general one: the tendency towards group thinking. Generalizations are useful shortcuts, but they should be used carefully. Even if a generalization is true for a majority of group members, that does not mean it applies to all members. The generalizations applied to women are gradually being reconsidered, and we can only hope that eventually a person's gender will not be considered relevant in most contexts.