Japanese Analysts Earthquake Relief

Dear IAAP colleagues,

I would like to thank those colleagues who sent us warm and heartfelt responses to the message of the AJAJ President Hiroshi Yokoyama. All my colleagues in Japan really appreciated them and felt encouraged.

AJAJ formed a working committee for earthquake victims together with the Japanese Sandplay Association on March 27. As I, Toshio Kawai, was nominated and elected as chair of this committee, I would like to update the situation in Japan, especially concerning our project of psychological relief work. This may seem rather long, but I beg your patience.

The situation in Japan is still emerging, not only in those regions which were terribly hit by the earthquake and tsunami but throughout the country. For example, I live in Kobe, far away from the Tohoku region, but I've noticed that some goods such as batteries and mineral water are difficult to find. Many friends and colleagues, especially those who have little children, have left Tokyo for the time being because of the lack of electricity, goods and the danger of radiation. The situation in Tohoku is surely being reported all over the world every day: there are still many people missing, many dead bodies left lying out, a lack of goods among refugees, the danger of radiation....

Amazingly the victims are rather calm and resilient despite the critical condition. No riots, no major plundering nor chaos has been reported. The Japanese still live in covert, harmonious connection with one another. This is not restricted to immediate relationships as family or local community. Even as refugees people feel some sense of connectedness with others, even if they are unknown and anonymous; they value and keep order. But the other side of the coin might be the lack of leadership from politicians...

The Japanese Society of Certified Clinical Psychologists which is the general organization for the psychotherapists with about 17,000 members has already started bringing psychological first aid on site. The Association of Japanese Clinical Psychology, the biggest academic organization in this field, also supports this activity. AJAJ has also started a working committee together with the Japanese Sandplay Association which has more than 2,000 members. AJAJ has only 30 analysts, 100 candidates, and 550 registered auditors, so cooperation with the Sandplay Association makes sense. Furthermore, many AJAJ analysts are officers or belong to the executive committee of the Sandplay Association. Among the members of AJAJ Toshio Kawai was elected as chair of this working committee, Yoshihiro Kadono as vice chair, Yasuhiro Tanaka, Madoka Kawato and Sonoko Toyoda as members.

We have already made some decisions:

1. Reduction of fees for conferences, semester registration, seminars, and for group supervision for those candidates/students who live in the regions hit by the earthquake. We sent them a communication (mail/fax/letter) saying they are eligible to request a reduction of fees of either 100% or 50%, along with a message of the condolence and sympathy. (The Sandplay Association will also offer a similar fee reduction).

Moreover, we plan to help members and candidates whose offices were damaged (or lost).

2. As to the psychological relief work, we would like to differentiate our project from the more general ones, while of course keeping contact with them. There are several additional points:

  • Beyond our candidates/students and personal csontacts in the region, we are exploring which kinds of help are most needed, and where we can best intervene.
  • We would like to offer long-term care, including the use of images like those from paintings and sandplay.
  • One of our focus points is the care and support of those providing direct services (firemen, nursing teachers, care takers).
  • Another major focus point is the care of children.
  • We would like to send a team of supervisors to the area and organize supervision seminars for all kinds of helping professionals. But all supervisors will also take part in psychological relief work on site even though it might be for a short period. I think the combination of direct activity and reflection on the meta level is important. This would be continued for at least several years.

Based on past experience we have to be very careful about intervening, for example in the wake of the Kobe earthquake numerous teams seeking to provide mental care caused confusion among the people there and even provoked troubles among the teams. Since we have connections in the schools and with therapists in the Tohoku region, we will investigate the best way to offer psychological relief work. We may have to wait for a while until the situation improves and clarifies so we can better assess the types of mental care needed for the long term. I will visit the area with some colleagues when the situation around the nuclear plant settles.

We have had much experience with earthquakes and psychological relief work in the aftermath because of their frequency in Japan. My colleague Kadono and I have even experienced this personally in the Kobe earthquake. But Kadono noted that the current disaster is not comparable with any previous ones. For example about 90 percent of those killed were drowned by the tsunami this time. There are almost no injured, people there were either barely saved or killed.

I experienced the Kobe earthquake near the epicenter, yet I saw no corpses, however, this time most refugees have seen many dead bodies. And then there is the terror of radiation.

Finally I would like to give thanks for all the expressed and even unexpressed sense of condolence and concern from our colleagues all over the world. And I would like to add that AJAJ would be very grateful, if there could be financial support from the IAAP for our project of psychological relief work. I have asked for a fund to be set up by the IAAP.

Best wishes,

Toshio Kawai,
Vice President of AJAJ, Chair of the Working Committee for Earthquake Victims