More play, psychosocial debriefing needed for Marawi children: psychologist

Ron Gagalac, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 25 2017 08:47 PM

A family from Marawi staying at an evacuation center in Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur, finds a light moment inside a makeshift shelter. An expert on child and family therapy is urging the government and concerned groups working to help people affected by the conflict in Marawi to address trauma experienced by children. Froilan Gallardo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA- Children affected by the 5-month long war in Marawi City should be given the chance to play more and undergo extensive psychosocial debriefing especially now that most of them will be welcomed by the sight of their ruined homes, a psychologist said.

Dr. Lourdes Carandang, an expert on child and family therapy, urged the government and groups working to help people affected by the conflict in Marawi City to address trauma experienced by children.

"Group[s] of people who work with children have to really process the trauma. If it stays with them and nobody resolves it, it will go on and on," she said.

Carandang and her team were at the forefront of counseling the first responders in Marawi, as well as families directly affected by the confrontation between government forces and the Islamic State-inspired terrorists.

Rebuilding plans and efforts for Marawi are underway after Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana announced the end of combat operations in the city Monday.

Carandang expressed concerns over the behavior exhibited by some children in Marawi and noted that, while some may look normal, they may be carrying trauma that only manifests in certain ways and conditions.

"In our play therapy, for the first time in 40 years, nakita namin na sabi ng bata sa kaniyang mga kasama: 'Mag-line up kayo diyan... Isa-isa ko kayo papatayin,' so they are absorbing it," she said.

(We saw a child telling his companions: "Line up....I will kill each one of you.")

"[Ilan sa mga behavior na posibleng senyales ng trauma ay] ayaw lumabas ng bahay, iyak ng iyak, nananakit. So many behaviors that [are] the effect of fear, of the ongoing bombardment. Although it is over, the images remain, the feelings remain," she explained.

(Some behaviors that may be possible signs of trauma are refusal to leave the house, constantly crying, hurting others.)

Carandang suggested that psychosocial debriefings for children should be done more deliberately and be treated as an essential component of the city's rehabilitation plan.

New playgrounds could also be incorporated in the rehabilitation plans to counter the negative perceptions and emotions children might be carrying because of the armed conflict, Carandang said.

Play, according to Carandang, is a natural way for children to cope with the anxieties, pressure and problems they face in their daily lives, especially for victims of abuse, natural calamities and armed conflicts.

"When you create a physical space, you're not only providing space where they can play, but also giving a message that it is important and necessary to play," she said.