After January's devastating quake, Shigeo Tatsuki wondered
whether Western trauma counseling would work in a society where
emotions and pain tend to be repressed and psychological treatment
itself is still shunned.
But when an Israeli trauma psychologist took him and others
through a drawing exercise during a recent seminar on healing
techniques, Tatsuki found himself in tears as he sketched his own
desire for hope in a picture of a blue sky peeking through a thorny
"When I cried, I felt the process of healing and realized how
much I needed help," said Tatsuki, a Kwansei Gakuin University
sociologist who today is leading regional efforts to expand
mental-health education through seminars and a cable TV program. "I
was much impressed that these techniques could alleviate stress by
helping us to feel."
As experts from around the globe have flown to Japan to share
healing techniques born of their own wars, disasters and
atrocities, the people of Kobe are finding that they do work.
With small smiles and big hugs, quiet confessions and tearful
release, the people are beginning to heal themselves.
Six months after the earth heaved and killed 5,500 people in
the Kobe area, an American social worker, Kelly Lemmon-Kishi,
brings teddy bears donated by well-wishers throughout the United
States and tells entranced children at a YMCA preschool to hug
their new friends whenever they are scared or sad.
At a temporary housing shelter, Yoshio Hirata, 93, tells
psychotherapist Kazu Kobayashi that he has no pleasures left in
life. But even as his brow furrows with the pain of his wife's
death from injuries after the quake, he is clearly happy for this
rare chance to talk and does so, nonstop.
Hiroko Minami sponsors trauma specialists from San Francisco to
lecture at her nursing school and ably uses the techniques herself.
Just two weeks ago, one of her nurses came to her feeling sad and
ended up pouring her story out in tears - the first time the
distraught woman had had a chance to talk about herself rather than
listen to others.
In one of the quake's most striking reverberations, Kobe has
launched a wave of public education and volunteer training about
mental health on a scale unprecedented in Japan. Many here hope
Kobe will be the catalyst for de-stigmatizing psychological care
among the Japanese, much as the Vietnam War did for Americans.
"Twenty, 30 years ago in the U.S., mental illness was a secret,
and going to see a psychiatrist was a family shame," said
Lemmon-Kishi, president of the Kansai International Association of
Counselors and Psychotherapists. "But Vietnam helped Americans
understand that people who had gone through a horrible war would
have emotional reactions they couldn't control. I hope Kobe will
give birth to the same thing in Japan."
It may, thanks to a widespread focus on what people here are
calling kokoro no kea - mental care - and post-traumatic stress
disorder, or PTSD. …