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World sports psychologist says difficult time for Chch

September 8, 2011

Difficult time for Christchurch without any World Cup games, but enjoy the tournament says expert

Christchurch people have not fully comprehended the damage to their city and the impact of missing out on hosting Rugby World Cup games, an international sports expert says.

Lise Valcour, an international sports psychology consultant from Canada, says becoming aware of the psychological reactions of earthquake survivors is vital, especially at a time entering a major event like the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Valcour was in Christchurch weeks after the February 22 earthquake, working as a volunteer welfare officer to help victims.

``Watching World Cup games in the Christchurch stadium is now only a shattered dream. Sadly, Christchurch people will not see their leading All Blacks perform in their own city this year – only on tv. Earthquake devastations have left over 400,000 Christchurch people in a surreal state. A city left with a deflated sense of pride, a diminished sense of joy, uncertainty, fear, sorrow, pain and suffering.

``No more eyes of the world upon its amazing rugby team but eyes of the world on people who have lost their city, their homes, their stadium, their games. What is there left?

Some studies suggest that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression after an earthquake is common. The strongest predictors of traumatic stress symptoms are fears during the earthquake, grieving the loss of close ones, damage to the home, rescue work and constant changes.

``Even after the jolts, the impact of the earthquakes continues to take its toll on survivors. It’s literally ‘taken the wheels off the cart’. In Christchurch fear and stress levels remain high. People are jumpy, uncertain, fearful and waiting for the next earthquake, the next devastation to hit again.’’

Valcour said there were several coping mechanisms to help quake victims deal with the destruction, damages, losses, helplessness, hopelessness, sadness, fear and long-term psychological effects.

Receiving support was important so victims could connect with helpful professionals, volunteers, support relief officers and first responders.

The Ontario expert said the All Blacks were a dignified role model team providing a source of strength, inspiration and hope to Christchurch earthquake survivors. Amid the hardships and the city’s debris, somehow the All Blacks continued to offer Christchurch ``joy and a sense of patriotic pride’’.

The Christchurch people needed to tell their story and say what happened to them on February 22, where they were, who was with them, what they were doing, who was left behind, what they lost, where they are going now, Valcour said. The feeling of being listened to is a psychologically important step in a person’s healing process.

``Focusing on the present moment is another amazing tool and coping mechanism. Christchurch survivors are experiencing strong feelings like fear, doubt, tension and anxiety. Having the ability to bring your attention to what matters the most in the here and the now will eliminate feelings fleeting in the future or feelings going back to past negative memories. That’s why an exciting focus on the Rugby World Cup will help the people of Christchurch.’’

She said the All Blacks had mastered emotional and thought control strategies to quickly help them shift their attention away from any negative thoughts. They wanted Christchurch fans to be in the present moment with them, to feel the energy and forget for a moment their past experiences of the earthquake and enjoy the infectious positive state of excellence they had created as a team.

Healing Christchurch will take time, patience, compassion, team work, focus, commitment and courage. Keeping a positive frame of mind and dealing with each day will inevitably help Christchurch people achieve success in rebuilding their city and their people, she said.


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