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Last Updated: Friday, 21 January, 2005, 12:46 GMT
Trauma counselling for news staff
By Matt Holder
BBC NewsWatch

Volunteers clearing away bodies in Banda Aceh
News staff witness more graphic images than those the public see

BBC News staff are being offered trauma counselling to help them deal with the often horrific images they see - such as those from the Asian tsunami and hostage beheadings in Iraq.

The BBC has introduced a traumatic risk management technique developed by the British Marines, as part of a number of counselling services already in place.

Used to provide support to individuals or teams who have been exposed to traumatic events, the technique attempts to gauge how people are coping.

It is being offered to both staff in the field who witness traumatic events as well as to those back in London who have to deal with the pictures coming in.

Staff in the field and those at home looking at agency photos often see grotesque pictures which are never broadcast to the public.

Sarah Ward Lilley, the BBC's managing editor of newsgathering, said: "Staff are offered the opportunity to talk things through with someone who has been trained within the organisation.

It doesn't take a genius to work out that many journalists covering the tsunami will be profoundly affected by it
Chris Cramer, CNN international managing director

"It's a structured conversation aiming to assess with the person how badly they have been affected.

"Topics such as bad dreams, sleeplessness and other physical and emotional responses are covered.

"A score will be agreed on and if after a month the score still seems high, the individual is advised to get professional help."

Small groups are also encouraged to meet and talk through their reactions to events with a trained counsellor.

Iranian embassy siege

One news organisation which already had something similar is CNN.

International managing director Chris Cramer, who was taken hostage in the 1980 Iranian embassy siege while working for the BBC, said the US-based network had worked hard over the past year to develop a culture where there was no stigma attached to talking about post-traumatic stress.

The broadcaster works closely with Dr Anthony Feinstein, a world expert on post-traumatic stress disorder in journalists and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

"We have tried to make it okay to talk about this stuff," Mr Cramer said.

"For years those within the media industry found trauma uncomfortable to talk about. For some strange reason we felt as though we should be immune.

"It's much more acceptable now to talk about post-traumatic stress and we encourage those at CNN to use the counselling services we have available.

"It doesn't take a genius to work out that many journalists covering the tsunami will be profoundly affected by it."

Both Sky News and ITN said they too offered counselling services for those exposed to traumatic images.


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