Relief Team Guidance: Ventilation or Retraumatization??

With the Disaster Response here in the Philippines, we have had to revisit an issue that has been with us since 2009. The issue is whether having a victim in a disaster relive the events is a freeing, ventilating event, or a retraumatization of the event. We use the NOVA method. One of the steps is Ventilation/Validation. In that, the counselor invites the individual or group to go through to describe their experience. There are other methods (CISM/CISD, PFA, OSFA) and this issue is an area where they diverge commonly.

Obviously, we are on a mission of healing so we don’t wish to further harm. There are people out there that are more experienced in this delicate issue. But talking to some and reviewing some literature leads us to recommend a middle road. Methods typically require some level of review of the events they have been through. This seems to be necessary. It is hard to imagine how to listen and respond effectively to the individual or group while avoiding the events that they have gone through. We interpret our lives in terms of stories. Inviting individuals to process experiences into narration seems to be a useful thing… something that has to happen at some point. Additionally, in group the common themes of shared experiences has the potential of healing. However, storytelling as an interpretive event, and act of ventilation, may be hurt by methods that seek to return to and relive the events that traumatized once. Understanding and interpreting can be good, but not reliving it.

Therefore, we are adding the following guidance.

  • While using the NOVA (National Organization of Victim Assistance) we will seek story ventilation, but not seek recollection and sharing of specific sights, sounds, smells, etc.
  • Similarly, for children, art therapy will still be used to allow them to share their own interpretation of events, but without seeking to share detailed sensory memories.

We would welcome further thoughts and insights in this matter.