05/14/2015 04:15 pm ET Updated May 14, 2015

What We Should Know About Sending Western Therapists To Help After Disaster Like Nepal Earthquake

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LONDON, 11 May 2015 (IRIN) - Following the earthquake in Nepal, psychologist Alessandra Pigni recalls her experiences in humanitarian aid: she reminds Western do-gooders that affected populations are resilient and that pathologising suffering after a traumatic event may get in the way of healing and recovery.

There has been an understandable outpouring of sympathy in response to the powerfully destructive earthquake in Nepal. Appeals have been launched, aid is being distributed and assessments made for longer-term recovery. And, in the midst of it all, is the all too familiar call for psychological support for affected communities. The World Health Organization estimates that between five and 10 percent of people impacted by humanitarian emergencies suffer from a mental health condition as a result.

I am reluctant to medicalise suffering in the aftermath of a natural disaster: symptoms of distress are a normal reaction to an abnormal situation and labelling does not help at an early stage. Of course, after a disaster strikes, everyone is in distress. But that doesn’t mean everybody needs to see a mental health practitioner.