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Stiff upper lip best way to deal with shock

Original post made by Jane, Professorville, on Jun 1, 2008

The popular assumption is that talking about a terrifying experience, such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster, can be therapeutic and helpful.

But new evidence suggests "getting it off your chest" may not be the right thing to do.

Psychologists in the US used an online survey to test people's responses to the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Those who chose to express their thoughts and feelings were compared with those who did not over a two-year period.

To their surprise, individuals who bottled up their feelings ended up better off.

They suffered fewer negative mental and physical health symptoms than people who were willing to talk.

The results have important implications for expectations about how people should react to collective trauma that affects a whole community or nation, said the researchers.

It also called into question the pleas made to people caught up in shocking events to come forward and "open up".

Comments (14)

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Posted by jd
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 1, 2008 at 9:26 am

So much for all the money and time wasted on psychotherapy.

Its really not evidence based or scientific.
More of a cottage industry for underemployed therapist to invent new opportunity for income.

Recovered memory, schizophrenogenic mothers, etc etc all psychobabble

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Posted by steve
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 1, 2008 at 11:38 am

As early as 1952, in one of the earliest studies of psychotherapy treatment, Hans Eysenck reported that two thirds of therapy patients improved significantly or recovered on their own within two years, whether or not they received psychotherapy

Many resources available to a person experiencing emotional distress—the friendly support of friends, peers, family members, clergy contacts, personal reading, research, and independent coping—present considerable value, indicating that psychotherapy is frequently inappropriate or unneeded by many.

Humans have been dealing with crises, navigating severe social problems and finding solutions long before the advent of psychotherapy

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Posted by Peter
a resident of another community
on Jun 1, 2008 at 1:10 pm

None the less, there is still a significant number of people who require do require professional help. I have friends who have found psychotherapy to be quite helpful when they were not able to deal with issues themselves or lacked the kind of support networks steve mentions. Other people are too shy or conflicted by their trauma to talk to friends or pastors -- or simply don't want them to know about their situations.

Please don't discourage people in need from investigating all sources of potential help.

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Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 1, 2008 at 3:02 pm


Sounds like you are saying that psychotherapy is bought friendship

sounds about right

In that case the solution is the solution, buying friendship, is the problem

I know people who derive support from ministers AA etc, but none of these are commercial transactions therefore there is no conflict of interest.

Conflict of interest is inherent in the psychotherapist bought friendship relationship

An exception would be Kaiser where the incentive is end the relationship

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Posted by Sister
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2008 at 3:43 pm

Back in my teens, a friend of my sister was raped on the way home from school. The incident was reported in the local newspaper and although her name wasn't mentioned we are knew she was the one. The very next day she was back in school, with some scratches and bruises, but acting normal. None of her friends wanted to talk about it with her and there were no follow ups by counselors or anyone. Within a short period of time, the incident was forgotten and the girl ended up being one of the most normal of her class. She is now happily married with a family and the bad incident in her past just that, in her past.

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Posted by sue
a resident of Hoover School
on Jun 1, 2008 at 4:00 pm

There is compelling evidence that psychotherapy is not just a placebo but can infact do people harm.

Once a person is in therapy the members of natural support systems back off as they believe the situation is being handled by professionals.

When the situation gets worse it is always seen as the patients fault, never the incompetence of the therapist, or the lack of need for a placebo in the first place. From then on the unwitting patient and there social network face a downward cycle.

The more treatment the person has had the more negative the attributions and expectations of the therapists and it becomes a self fulfilling prophesy

This topic was the focus a series of studies by Rosenhan at Stanford in the 70s

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Posted by someone looking for more info
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jun 1, 2008 at 11:18 pm

Jane? how about a link to your source?

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Posted by Joe 'Doe'
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 2, 2008 at 7:28 am

During WW II there were no grief counselors in the schools after Pearl Harbor or when the West Coast was shelled from Japanese submarines or when a classmate was out for a few days because a sibling or parent was killed in action. In fact, the only 'grief counselors' were clergy. Schools never heard of grief counselors. There were no grief counselors when towns were ripped by a tornados. I never remember a suicide in our town of 40K. Things happened and we dealt with them. AND the programs of AA and Alanon teach a way to deal with life and lead a good life.

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Posted by Jane
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 2, 2008 at 2:28 pm

someone looking for more info, a resident of the Palo Alto Hills neighborhood

here is the link to the study debunking pschotherapy
Web Link

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Posted by Jane
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 2, 2008 at 2:33 pm

"Using a large national sample, Seery and co-researchers tested people's responses to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, beginning immediately after the event and continuing for the following two years. In an online survey, respondents were given the chance to express their thoughts and feelings on the day of 9/11 and a few days afterward.

The researchers then compared people who chose to express their thoughts and feelings versus those who chose not to express.

If the assumption about the necessity of expression is correct -- that failing to express one's feelings indicates some harmful repression or other pathology -- then people who chose not to express should have been more likely to experience negative mental and physical health symptoms over time, the researchers point out.

more on the studyWeb Link

"However, we found exactly the opposite: people who chose not to express were better off than people who did choose to express," Seery says.

Moreover, when the researchers looked only at people who chose to express their thoughts and feelings, and tested the length of their responses, they found a similar pattern. People who expressed more were worse off than people who expressed less.

"We assessed various alternative explanations in secondary analyses, but nothing else accounts for this effect," Seery says."

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Posted by misleading science
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 2, 2008 at 4:57 pm

Is it possible that people who express their feelings about a particular situation (911 in the case of the study) are more troubled by the incident to begin with? It's not the act of expressing that makes them worse off; they're worse off to begin with which is why they feel the need to express themselves.

I didn't follow the link. Do the researchers account for this effect in their study? They demonstrate a connection between expressing and recovering, but do they go so far as to say expressing is the cause?

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Posted by agree with misleading science
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 2, 2008 at 5:55 pm

Have to say, that was my first thought ( the same as misleading science above). There are those who deal with life better just soldiering on...and those who deal with it better talking about their feelings and figuring out how to move on.

To force either one into the other's mold would seem not beneficial..and it may be that those who just "grin and bear it" are psychologically knit in a way that lets them categorize what happens and simply move on.

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Posted by Jane
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 3, 2008 at 12:38 pm

looks like the british are getting a twitchy upper lip

The Home Office in Britain has allocated $25 million for therapy for Islamic extremists, and says counseling is more suitable than criminal charges for those who belong to violent hate-groups.

The central element of the Home Office plan is a new national "deradicalisation" programme that would persuade converts to violent and extremist causes to change their views.

Controversially, the new plan makes clear that people who fall under the influence of violent organisations will not automatically face prosecution.

Instead, the presumption should be that some such individuals would face therapy and counselling from community groups instead of criminal charges.

The notion that if Osama Bin Laden were on a head-doctor's couch and not in a cave, another 9/11 could be averted reflects deeply flawed reasoning. When he becomes Prime Minister, David Cameron should urge Parliament to divert these funds to buy bombs, not therapy. After all, fundamentalists are not insane—they just happen to be very wrong and extremely dangerous.

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Posted by Gary
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 3, 2008 at 1:02 pm


You used the term "therapy". Is that word used in the legislation? If not, I can see a role for propaganda classes to swith over the ideology of jihadists. Saudi Arabia is, apparently, having success with such an approach.

The jihadists are not mentally ill or psychologically deranged...they are ideolgically committed to the overthrow of all non-Illamic peoples. If they can be ideologically flipped, it might be worth the money.

I agree with you that bombs are necessary, but they are not sufficient.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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