A hug a day keeps the trauma away

In oorlogsgebieden in het midden- oosten en ook na de tsunami in Japan, werd Hibuki, door twee psychologen geintroduceerd: een hond die droevig kijkt en waar kinderen voor moeten zorgen.
Sent by Shlomo Tagger.

Children are just as vulnerable to trauma, caused by catastrophic events or shocking and painful incidents, as adults - perhaps more so. Children who have experienced stress and trauma are liable to direct destructive behavior at others and at themselves, and to suffer learning difficulties, dissociative problems, somatic problems and distortion in self-perception and their perception of others. They can even develop chronic behavior patterns that show minimal involvement in what is going on, plus an excessive preoccupation with the past.

"Traumatic conditions in children entail a terrible sense of loneliness that can include subjective feelings such as 'I don't want to be different than other children,' or 'I don't want to burden everyone with my story,'" explains Hen-Gal, adding that often the adults around an affected child will avoid direct mention of his distress.

Clinical tool .

Sadeh: " I was wandering the toy stores looking for a plush toy and finally I came to one place where I saw this one and knew right away that it was what we needed. I used the research money I had left over to buy the first 70 stuffed animals. Hibuki (Huggy)was born: a stuffed animal and then I teach them how to use it . The sad face that kept parents from embracing Hibuki turned out to be just right for Hen-Gal and Sadeh's purposes.

"A traumatized child identifies more with a sad animal because it's easier for him to project his own sadness onto it," Hen-Gal explains. "One of the first questions we asked the children was why Hibuki was sad, and the child would say: 'Because a Qassam fell on his doghouse.' Or, 'He doesn't have any friends.' Another advantage of this stuffed animal was its human expression, plus the long arms with Velcro at the ends that can hug the child and cling to him. The child hugs the puppet and the puppet hugs him. That's where the name comes from."

The two psychologists distributed the stuffed animals in the camp and asked parents and staff to encourage the kids to "take care" of them. The results were astounding. Making the child act like a caretaker prompted him to shift his focus from his own problems to those of the little animal, as it were, and thus indirectly helped the child take care of himself. The parents were also given a very valuable means for reconnecting with the child and understanding how he was doing, via indirect questions about his relationship with Hibuki.
Hen-Gal: "It was clear the parents were afraid to confront reality head-on. They didn't know what to say to the children, and also felt guilty that the kids were paying such a heavy price. As a result, the children were exposed to vast loneliness, accompanied by anxiety. Our intervention made [parents] see that children are affected much worse when they aren't able to speak about their anxiety, and we helped them to get the children talking and to answer their questions."

In the past 15 years, mental health research has found that the healing powers of people who are in the children's natural surroundings - parents, teachers, counselors, etc. - are greater than that of an outsider, no matter how skilled he or she may be. Rather than the magnitude of the disaster, it has been found that it is the ability of such adults to mediate the experience for the child that affects the extent of their psychological damage.
"Even children who are exposed to very severe trauma can heal efficiently if their parents and others around them are able to mediate the distress for them," says Hen-Gal.
Sadeh and Hen-Gal show that treatment with the Hibuki toy is suitable for 95 percent of children exposed to stressful and traumatic events, and that within just a few days, incidents of stress-related behavior such as bedwetting, nightmares, anxiety and violence were reduced by 40 percent. Plus the therapeutic effect was apparently long-lasting.

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Door: de redactie -IW-

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