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Wednesday, 19 September, 2001, 02:50 GMT 03:50 UK
Even journalists need counselling
A family coming to terms with the tragedy
Many Americans cannot take in the scale of the tragedy
The BBC's Mark Brayne is a former foreign correspondent who also works as a professional psychotherapist. In his view, last week's attacks were so horrific that even journalists reporting them may need the help of a counsellor.

It has been a week when trauma has slammed into our lives with the most violent television images imaginable. As therapists, we are used to dealing with our clients' trauma - but it is usually trauma that is private, personal and often quite old.

Here, suddenly, was trauma now, visible, real - and on a global level. It cut directly into the lives of thousands, but also into the hearts of the millions who witnessed these events unfolding - and of those who reported it.

The attacks on New York and Washington will prove life-changing for many journalists

Journalists are trained to be sceptical, even cynical - whether it is towards politicians, spin doctors or indeed psychotherapists.

After all, journalists report only the facts, do we not - we are objective and balanced. We are not part of the story. News is what happens outside us.

But events like those of this week tell us something different. We get drawn in, and of course we are affected - sometimes profoundly - physically, emotionally, spiritually.

Change of focus

Tiananmen Square and the Romanian revolution all those years ago were my own wake-up calls, setting off changes which took me off the road as a correspondent and brought me to psychotherapy.

All across the world, people have been shocked by the tragedy
The attacks on New York and Washington will also prove life-changing for many journalists.

I know there will be those who will accuse me here of self-indulgence. After all, what is a reporter's trauma compared to that of a bereaved partner, parent or child?

But let me argue for a moment, as a therapist and as a journalist, that it matters that we correspondents begin to pay attention to our own experience.

In a sense, we reflect back to you, our listeners, an image of our world. If we do so with authenticity and understanding - like a good therapist with a client - then our reporting will resonate as authentic and credible.

On the other hand, if we distort the world, or deny the emotional and - heaven forbid - even the spiritual dimension to our own human experience, it may make for arresting headlines, but in the long run, I suspect it is neither responsible nor, to be honest, interesting.

A client who does not feel understood walks away from therapy.

Today's young, including my own children, are already in their millions walking away from news.

New type of news

Perhaps that is where this week's terrible trauma in America might help jolt us towards a new understanding.

The burning World Trade Center towers
11 September 2001 will be indelibly marked on many memories
An understanding of news which makes connections, which seeks to understand rather than just to label, which embraces but yet refrains from indulging the emotional dimension of events for everyone involved.

News which reports trauma and violence, yes - the First Act, as it were, of the drama.

But emotionally intelligent news, which also follows through to Act two - to healing and change.

For this, I believe journalists need to be aware and accepting of their own emotional response, and able then to use that awareness as a tool to engage those to whom they report.

It may be about healthier journalists. It is also about better journalism.

Recognising feelings

And indeed, there has been some stunning reporting from New York this week, for this is in fact work already begun.

BBC journalists these days, before they go abroad, are trained in how to cope with disaster and hostile environments. There is a module on the course set aside to explain the feelings that might arise from reporting trauma.

Just like the police, or firemen or soldiers, journalists can be traumatised by our work

Increasingly, although slowly, my long hard-bitten and stiff-upper-lipped colleagues are willing to accept counselling - and even admit to it - to head off or cope with PTSD as it is called, post-traumatic stress disorder.

This does not hit everybody, by any means, but when it does it can destroy careers, relationships and even lives. Just like the police, or firemen or soldiers, whose commanders began to take this issue seriously years before we did, journalists can be traumatised by our work.

Trauma needs to be talked about - which is where therapy and listening come in. Today, after a terrible week, there are many who will need to be heard in their grief, confusion, and shock.

The injured, the bereaved, those who have reported, and perhaps some of you who have just watched or listened.

Counselling the cynics

Recently, I went as a delegate to my first national psychotherapy conference. I found myself the last person in the plenary session to make a comment from the floor.

memorial service
Memorial services helped many vent their grief
We had been talking for two days about the need to build bridges between neuroscience and psychotherapy. Over the years I must have asked a million questions at conferences.

But here, as a newly-qualified therapist, I made an appeal, as both journalist and counsellor, for bridges to be built between us therapists and a usually so cynical media.

It is the first time at a conference that I have ever been applauded for saying something.

And I suspect that after the traumatic events of the last few days, the applause, and the longing for connection, would have been even stronger.

See also:

12 Sep 01 | UK
Grappling with global grief
12 Sep 01 | Education
Children 'need to talk' about attacks
18 Sep 01 | Education
What did we tell the children?
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