Posted by: calloftheandes | August 23, 2016

Important Elements of Disaster Counseling: Listening and Loving God (Interview Part 2)

After a devastating earthquake rocked Ecuador on April 16, 2016, Reach Beyond sent several teams of physicians and other medical staff to the quake zone. They traveled from the ministry’s Vozandes Hospital in Quito to handle trauma cases and urgent needs, helping meet the immediate physical needs of the victims.

 However, the care went far beyond the physical, addressing people’s mental, psychological and spiritual needs. Many volunteers provided counseling for the survivors, putting to use the training they had received from Dr. Carlos Pinto, a Christian psychologist with Reach Beyond. A segment of interview with Pinto is published below.

Did the attendees[to seminars for volunteer counselors to quake victims]  bringformally or informallysome reports about what happened and shared the results?

Yes, the Christian Emergency Committee of Ecuador—the lightning rod that really mobilized Christian churches and that Reach Beyond accompanied—had meetings that yet today are being held weekly where each area gives their reports.

In the psychological area—which I was to some degree coordinating—we followed a format in which each participant indicated the name of the person, the spiritual questions asked, any visible signs found of emotional trauma, losses mentioned by the person and the recommendations that were made. Along with that, the reports included any referrals given to visited person or family, and any professional attention suggested, including professional psychiatric attention.

Was there was a central theme at the base of the workshops such as, “God understands what it means to suffer” or something that is based on Christianity and the Bible?

There was a theme or slogan with the understanding that God is sovereign and that even in amid difficulties God it is present and there is nothing that escapes the knowledge of God and God’s intervention.

Carlos Pinto

Carlos Pinto

From what I saw at the Larson Center in Quito, the workshop was not a series of lessons given by an expert (you) but something more participatory in which each attendee added something.

It seems that that the adult education people want these days must be of a style which corresponds precisely to the age group in a way that honors them and signals to them that the wisdom residing in them is recognized. As adults, they’re given the opportunity to share their own experiences. At the same time, there are times when attendees are permitted to practice what has been communicated—skills needed [in work with trauma victims], such as listening more and talking less. So, empathetic listening is a concept that was immediately put into practice. That is basically the most important tool that people are going to use in the field. And so [the workshop] was a combination of interaction/participation and also giving theoretical concepts.

Both nongovernmental organizations and government agencies have sent psychologists. What part would you say churches contributed on the coast after the earthquake?

I’d say there’s a difference—without intending to minimize the effort made by the government or that which the government has done—but it’s worth saying that the effort of the evangelical church has added a component to what psychologists accompanying the government to these places have done. And we as Christians—Christian psychologists in this case—have had a unique experience: knowing the love of Christ as well as His redemption, liberty and healing. That is an element that the psychologist who is not a Christian cannot share cannot pass on because he or she has not lived it.

When a Christian is talking to another person, they’ll say that God is good, and the good hope we have is in a great and loving God. That which a survivor of a natural disaster experiences is loss of control, pain due to extreme loss and lack of hope for the future as a result of their massive losses. When a Christian psychologist shares with a survivor just the answer to that—that hope with the witness basically of faith—it responds to this lack of control with the message of God’s sovereignty, that God is present, and that God is in control and on the other hand, the message is also accompanied by the love that is ultimately what the survivor can perceive.

A doctor or a psychologist comes with excellent learning in the art or science, but the relational part, the part of unconditional love—that of my approaching someone as an extension of the hand of God and love of God—is something only within the Christian psychologists and within those church volunteers who came to these places. [This I say] without detracting—obviously not detracting—from what the government and its entities have given, which is the best of their logistics, their being there [in the quake zone]; they gave the best they had.

File photo from April 2016 shows Dr. Pinto at a training session in Quito.

File photo from April 2016 shows Dr. Pinto at a training session in Quito.

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