Chile, Haiti, New Orleans, Thailand...many more. In the end, the disaster may be less traumatic than the aftermath of misunderstanding and isolation.
Dos and Don’ts
Do ask questions.
Don't talk so much.
Do accept ‘no’ for an answer about talking or going places. Do ask again in the future.
Do remind them that they are not burdening you, that you are interested in hearing their story more than once.
Do run interference against those people who would want a five-minute summary. It’s not worth the emotional jarring to share the story in that context.
Don’t bring it up like a badge of courage.
Do encourage counseling.
Don’t use it as a point of interest in introducing them to people, especially groups. (Not even 2 years after the event.)
Do use neutral language. Don’t use value words, negative OR positive.
Don’t pretend to understand.
Don’t try to console.
Do reach out a hand if they’re crying and it feels appropriate.
Do give them a comfortable environment with room and board while they recover.
Don’t let them hide inside and withdraw.
Do listen sincerely.
Do reassure them that you care about them, not about the shock and awe of their experience.
Do not ask questions that distill the complexity of the situation and make it sound one-sided.
Do ask open-ended questions.
Do ask questions with a spirit of curiosity.
Do be careful, even in emails, not to express any expectations or value-judgments on what they did or didn’t do--negative or positive.
Do not give examples from your life.
Do not suggest it’s time to move on.
Do not suggest they get a job.
Do encourage them to take space but continue to see people.
Do encourage them to write and play music and express themselves in their own way.
Do say, “I don’t understand what you’ve experienced. I care about you. Please tell me more. I’m listening.”