Pakistani trauma centre to give psychotherapy to journalists
PESHAWAR: Reporting on violence and conflict in the restive Mohmand Agency left a lasting impact on Mureeb Khan.
“Continuous witnessing of the mutilated bodies of bombing victims, the destruction caused by catastrophic explosions, armed clashes between local peace committee members and the Taliban and death threats from militants to newsmen working in the region severely affected me psychologically and made me a patient of chronic depression and anxiety,” said Mureeb, who had to undergo psychological treatment for three years to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
That took a toll on Mureeb.
“During three years of treatment, my family and I suffered greatly financially and emotionally,” Mureeb told Central Asia Online.
Supporting victims of PTSD
Mureeb is only one example of how terrorism affects more than just the direct victims of its violence.
“Mureeb is not the only reporter suffering from PTSD,” Peshawar psychologist Dr. Khalid Mufti said. “The majority of media men working in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa [KP] and FATA are suffering from psychological trauma.”
Acknowledging the impact that war reporting has on its practitioners, journalists and academia in Peshawar have joined hands to identify the traumatic conditions afflicting media professionals and work out ways to solve their problems.
One avenue involved the establishment of the Competence and Trauma Centre for Journalists (CTCJ), which is housed in the Psychology Department of the University of Peshawar.
“The [CTCJ], sponsored by the DW [Deutsche Welle] Akademie of Germany, [was] inaugurated on November 24,” Dr. Altaf Ullah Khan, chairman of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Peshawar, said.
Psychological help was limited earlier
Such a centre is essential for providing psychotherapy to reporters traumatised by covering bombings and other catastrophes in this region, Altaf said.
Reporting from the war zones affects journalists physically and psychologically, but authorities in the past hadn’t really helped them, he added.
While welcoming the decision, Peshawar Press Club (PPC) Chairman Nasir Hussain said his group and the Khyber Union of Journalists would help the University of Peshawar put together a core group of volunteer journalists to collaborate with university faculty in treating the reporters.
Faculty and journalists know society’s resistance to what they want to accomplish.
Pakistanis largely still view psychological problems as a stigma rather than something to treat and discuss. Journalists are no exception in fearing ostracism if they seek treatment, observers say.
Thus, journalists associated with the CTCJ intend to encourage other reporters to take advantage of its services. They hope that PTSD-afflicted reporters will be more amenable to advice from their colleagues.
Nasir is going one step farther.
“I will prefer to personally get treatment to [better] encourage fellow newsmen to follow suit,” he said.
Importance of treating PTSD
One of the reasons society needs to tackle the issue is that PTSD can colour a journalist’s reporting, observers said.
“If newsmen become desensitised by continual observation of destruction and damage, the product he is presenting … will have the same impact on society,” Bakht Zaman, a journalism lecturer at the University of Peshawar, said.
If journalists become inured to violence, they are more inclined to think it’s acceptable to air violent images. For example, in 2012, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) issued a directive, still in effect, discouraging TV channels from broadcasting videos of disfigured bombing victims.
“During psychotherapy, journalists will be informed about possible measures for prevention and cure [of PTSD],” Dr. Erum Irshad, chairman of the Psychology Department of the University of Peshawar, said.
Centre officials plan to provide counselling and informational sessions for reporters about psychological trauma, its causes and possible preventive measures.
“The Competence and Trauma Centre of Journalists will prove beneficial both for reporters and the media industry, because if journalists get refresher courses, their performance will improve and eventually will have a healthy impact on society,” Altaf said.