How People Respond to Trauma and Bereavement – Part III

How People Respond to Trauma and Bereavement – Part III


Without a doubt, the most critical component to recovery is the individual’s ability to cope or what therapists call “resilience,” which is a result of upbringing, personal history, and genetics.

Referring to trauma and recovery expert and author Judith Herman, Lopez’s guru, the doctor enumerates the three elements that increase a person’s resilience: task-oriented attitude, inner locus of control, and sense of humor.

a37A person is task-oriented when he has the ability to concentrate on the goal at hand. “It’s the ability to no panic in a stressful situation and to tell yourself to focus on what [you] have to do now. I have a kidnap survivor who escaped after three days. She focused on how to convince her bantay (guard) to let her go, and in fact, they escaped together,” Lopez recounts. “Task-oriented trait is very true for traumas that are short term.”

Having an inner locus of control, versus an external locus of control, places the individual in the driver seat of the situation, whether it’s in the face of trauma or in the aftermath. “it means having enough self-confidence to make judgement and decisions for yourself, and to be not so dependent on what other people think. Those who are independent-minded and autonomous in their thinking are usually better survivors,” she elaborates.

Lastly, no can refute the healing power of sense of humor. It’s not a denial of what has occurred, but an ability to see the irony or the lighter side in situations, and to not taking oneself too seriously.


a38Therapist rely on a variety of psychological and pharmaceutical treatments, from cognitive-behavior therapy to antidepressants, to help patients manage their grief or trauma. However, it is unusual for a practitioner of Western medicine to subscribe to an integrated or holistic approach. Lopez had never appreciated its value until she began her battle against Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma just a few months ago. “If you’re undergoing anything of serious consequence, life-threatening to you, it would need no less than a broad range of interventions that would strengthen your resilience and help you cope,” she confides.

It also involves physiotherapy, such as massage, breathing techniques, meditation, and exercise like qigong (chi gong), yoga, and tai chi. In formal programs abroad for survivors of sexual assault, martial arts is an integral module, aimed to restore empowerment and mastery over one’s body, she says.

But treating the body and the mind is just two-thirds of the equation; Lopez believes the spiritual dimension should also be addressed: “Recovery of trauma is a physical and psycho-spiritual process for me. By spiritual, I do not mean that you become religious. It’s seeing that there’s bigger power, a higher being who will protect us, understand us, who will usher in our deeper recovery. You have to acknowledge that there is something beyond you that will explain why you experienced it and help you regain your sense of empowerment and give you meaning. That’s spirituality. And it’s going to be very hard to find meaning in a trauma.”

Between chemotherapies,Lopez—named Philippine Psychiatric Association’s most outstanding psychiatrist in 2007—is working with a team of specialist on a trainor’s manual for “enhancing mental health and psychosocial support capacities in emergencies and disasters in Mindanao.” The project id a collaboration between the University of the Philippines and the Department of Health.


– Sunli Coo, Medical Observer




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