09/09/2019, 14.07
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For psychoanalyst, ‘forgiveness therapy’ can help overcome the trauma of the Easter Sunday attacks

by Melani Manel Perera

Survivors of the 21 April bombings are working out their grief their own way. Some do not accept what happened; others are relying on their capacity to adapt. The sense of community has also been affected, and the trauma has also caused "sensory disintegration".

Colombo (AsiaNews) – For Sri Lankan psychoanalyst Dr Ravindra Ranasinha, the purpose of psychotherapy after the Easter attacks is to help people rediscover the meaning of life until they can forgive.

The therapist spoke to AsiaNews about the psycho-physical recovery of the people who survived the 21 April attacks, who were deeply traumatised. He explains that "a time frame for recovery from a trauma is not a possibility,” but “the personality of the victim matters a lot, when it comes to recovery".

The island nation was shocked by multiple attacks against three churches and three luxury hotels almost five months ago, mostly in Colombo, which killed 263 people and wounded more than 600.

The specialist met several survivors of the blast at the St Sebastian Church Sebastian in Katuwapitiya. "[S]ome of them have acknowledged what had happened to them. They try to reconcile with reality. [But] There are those who want to continue with the experience. They are still not in a state to accept what happened. Some people try to utilize their available coping strength to emerge from the trauma. All these people need support to build their resilience.”

The psychoanalyst points out that "It is not only about an individual but about a community. In this case, [. . .] This is very complex” for “how individuals and communities understand, share, and work through the experience”.

The first thing the victims need is "A friendly listener”. Indeed, “They wanted to transfer their experience to another. That sharing helped them to vent their feelings. That was very cathartic for them.”

The projection mechanism works for both adults and children. With regard to the latter, Dr Ranasinha notes that "When they felt confident about the friends, they did not want the parents to stay with them throughout group therapy sessions.”

However, for some children “At a time of trauma, talking therapy is not a feasible thing. Children are not in a state to verbalise what they experienced. Therapeutic games and exercises are the best, to help them to vent out.”

As for adults, “In a trauma situation, there is a sensory disintegration that takes place. Trauma causes numbness. Tactile and olfactory issues emerge due to this numbness. Some women said cooking becomes difficult as they are unable to get the right taste.”

According to the specialist, it is useful for these people to listen to traditional songs and hymns, along with the smell of spices, flowers and leaves, which can revive the memory of certain tastes.

Furthermore, “Parables from the Bible are a strong source to empower the victims. They contain the people. In group therapy sessions, I found that the parables pave way for an inner search. Spiritual resources help the victims make an understanding about the purpose of life.”

“It was obvious that any victim will have anger towards the perpetrator. I was able to see the intensity of their hatred towards the perpetrator. It is natural. [. . .] People spoke to me about their anger, and I listened to them. They wanted to vent that anger, and listening to them helped them to make sense of their emotions.”

“Our task is to help them work through their anger, and avoid generalising such emotions and thoughts towards a community. [. . .] In the healing process, faith plays a major role in educating people to forgive.  The people are empowered through religious understanding. In Christianity, the strongest spiritual teaching is to forgive.”

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