Student Serves Chile Earthquake Victims
May 24, 2010
by Sarah H. Dolan
When the recent earthquakes in Chile crumbled the foundations of small village housing, redevelopment became the clear, immediate need. But a less apparent need emerged during the aftermath: psychological services to help the people recover from the shock of natural disaster.
Regent University Trauma Team representative Emily Hervey recently spent a week in Chile to provide counseling services to locals in small Chilean villages. Hervey was born and raised in Chile by American missionary parents until the age of eight.
"In the past, there has been a general perception in Chile of psychologists and mental health care that it was only the crazy who would seek help," said Hervey, who is a doctoral student in Regent's School of Psychology & Counseling. "But now, psychology is becoming more normalized in the nation."
Hervey's eight-day trip was sponsored by Regent's Center for Trauma Studies, which provides professional counselors and students with opportunities to integrate their Christian faith with crisis intervention strategies and trauma models for meeting people's needs at their moments of deepest distress.
She spent a majority of her time in Putú. According to the website of La Trinadad—a church in Santiago, Chile—Putú is a town of about 3,000 people who live in 600 houses. With 80 percent of the houses made from adobe clay, many collapsed during the earthquake. Hervey joined a team of individuals from La Trinidad, which administered several trips to provide aid for earthquake victims in Putú. Besides helping with practical needs, she worked with locals in need of psychological first aid and compassion fatigue services.
"There are no psychologists in the area," Hervey said. "The challenges for people living in a town lacking in any means of mental health care quickly became evident, and in some ways it is a bit frustrating to leave knowing they are unlikely to get any helpful follow up ... It's easy to suggest further therapy, but much more challenging for the families here to access it."
In addition to her stay in Putú, she also briefly visited Cohipué and Constitucion, a nearby city on the shore of the Pacific that was hit by a tsunami following the earthquake. Hervey learned that many people in Putú fear the sea and tsunamis more than earthquakes, even though Putú is 5 km from the water.
In her blog about the trip, Hervey described the church team's efforts to serve the locals by offering free haircuts, manicures, a trampoline for kids and crafts for women. "It basically was a chance for a break from the daily challenges as they rebuild their houses and lives," she said. "One older woman started talking to me, telling bits of her story ... at the end she made a comment on how meaningful it was ... The need [for psychologists] is great, and I'm only scratching the surface."
Hervey said she was encouraged by the people's resilience, and she was grateful for the chance to provide comfort and help in a time of great need. "What may be most difficult is not knowing how they will move forward, yet I'm grateful for what little part in the big picture I have had the privilege to play."