Psychology course examines reactions to disaster

The recent Asian tsunami disaster may not be in the news this summer, but the type of trauma it causes will be part of a special two-day course at UAA. Psychology professor Bruno M. Kappes will offer a course in May called Psychological Reactions to Catastrophic Events. The dates of the course have not been set yet.

Kappes said people experiencing traumatic events might later experience post-traumatic stress disorder to cope with the events.

“Their ego goes underneath a rock,” Kappes said. “And almost like a camera, they watch what’s happening because they don’t have time to experience the event themselves.”

Later, when the person is in a safe place, the feelings associated with the trauma may resurface.

“That ego crawls out from underneath that rock and starts to experience and relive all the events in the form of flashbacks or dreams, or they start getting depressed or angry,” Kappes said.

Kappes said trauma results from the experience or observation of a near-death experience, in addition to feeling helpless in that situation. He said most of the people who are in these circumstances suffer from a condition called acute stress disorder.

“(Acute stress disorder) happens during the first month right following an event,” Kappes said. “It’s only a slight percentage of the population that actually have lasting trauma, or post-traumatic stress disorder.”

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The most vulnerable people are those whom we might expect to be more resilient, he said.

“People who have had a lot of trauma in their lives are more prone to break down and experience trauma,” Kappes said.

For those who experience trauma, either directly or as a result of identifying strongly with victims, Kappes emphasized the most important thing in the healing process is to find meaning in the event. For students who feel deeply connected with the tsunami victims, Kappes said the best thing to do is to get involved in a group that supports the victims.

“Those things are healthy ways in responding to tragedy,” Kappes said. “Otherwise, people feel like victims, and they feel helpless. A big part of the healing process is doing something about it.”

Khaled Zayed, president and founder of the Muslim Student Association at UAA, is trying to get his organization involved in the tsunami aftermath. He said that he and other Muslim students he’s spoken to have felt “shocked” by the disaster. Eighty percent of the victims killed in the tsunami were Muslim.

 “I really wanted to go over and help, but I couldn’t,” Zayed said.

He said hearing about the global aid effort to tsunami victims alleviated the worry he felt for people in the affected regions.

The Muslim Student Association is planning to discuss the tsunami disaster and how the club will contribute to the ongoing tsunami relief effort. In the meantime, Zayed has found solace in his faith and in his local mosque.

“Most Muslims take it as a lesson for us to learn—how to be close to each other and stay away from bad deeds and bad things. If you’re going to die one way, you want to die pure, so that was the lesson.”

Zayed has been active in his local mosque, educating its congregations about good Muslim charities to donate to, which are involved in the tsunami relief effort.

“There is a prayer in Islam,” he says, “called ‘Al Salat Lalghaeb,’ which means, the prayer for people who die abroad. So, we did that prayer service, that special prayer, at the mosque.”

Students who would like to participate in the upcoming Muslim Student Association meeting can contact its president, Khaled Zayed, at [email protected]