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Quake exacts a psychic toll

April 19, 2010

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David Luhnow and Ianthe Jeanne Dugan

Wall Street Journal
April, 2010

At a makeshift clinic across from a sprawling tent camp here in the capital, earthquake victims lined up on a recent day, seeking care. But many weren't looking for help for physical wounds. "Most people are asking to see the psychiatrist," said Claire Gutierrez, a nurse working at the site set up by medical-aid organization Doctors Without Borders.

Haiti is a a nation of shell-shocked people, haunted by the sights, sounds, and smells from the Jan. 12 quake. ...

... Much of the concern about the emotional damage centers on children who lived through scenes of horror on the day of the quake, watching homes collapse, seeing family members crushed and witnessing carnage in the streets.

Griffen Samples, a 57-year-old child psychologist who volunteers with aid organization Mercy Corps, runs a program called "Comfort for Kids," which trains adults who work with children in how to respond to their emotional needs after a traumatic event.

The training material, called "What Happened to Our World?" was first used after 9/11 and refined after Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, in China.

On a recent day in Port-au-Prince, Ms. Samples sat at a conference table with Haitian teachers. One teacher wanted to know what to tell children when they asked when the earthearth quakes would stop.

"Tell them you don't know, but that the earthquakes will stop someday," said Ms. Samples.