Flight MH370
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Malaysia Airlines flight 370

Outside therapists vital for relatives of Malaysia Airlines passengers, say experts

Malaysia Airlines volunteers are the only ones allowed at briefings

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 4:54am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 8:14am

The call for more therapists to provide counselling to the relatives of passengers onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight is growing.

A week of waiting has taken the families in a painful circle to where they started when the search began, with no idea about the fate of their loved ones.

"People fear the unknown the most. At this stage, it is necessary that people with professional training step in as soon as possible," said Hu Lin, a therapist at Ciming Oasis Hospital in Beijing.

Psychologists who have volunteered to help relatives staying at Metropark Lido Hotel, where Malaysia Airlines holds daily briefings, shared Hu's sentiments.

"Every day their hope ends in despair. And many are suffering volatile emotions. It is important for them to have someone who understands what they have been through," said Paul Yin, a psychologist who lives near the Lido hotel and has been counselling the families since last Sunday.

Another volunteer psychologist, Sun Yuzhong, said relatives who had approached him for help were faced with making rational decisions while coping with stress on several fronts.

"They are forced to stay strong and rational because they still need to support the rest of the family," Sun said.

Every day their hope ends in despair ... many are suffering volatile emotions
Psychologist Paul Yin

"For them, there are two sources of stress, the incident itself and the fact they have to keep repressing their emotions."

But local volunteers are not permitted inside the meeting room where the airline holds its daily meetings with the families. Only the caregivers and Buddhist volunteers Malaysia Airlines brought to Beijing are allowed to accompany the relatives.

Hu said Ciming hospital as well as several other local institutions had already approached the airline with offers of counselling, but it had been slow to respond.

Legal experts who want to offer help to the families say they face the same difficulty.

A law professor from Peking University said she visited the hotel on Tuesday, and was told by the airline to "leave our contact details and they said they would pass the message to the relatives".

"But as of Friday we had heard nothing from the airline or the relatives. We really don't know if the families know we are there to help," she said.

Yin questioned if families would truly open themselves up to the volunteers brought by Malaysia Airlines. "They have lots of complaints against the airline. Though the volunteers have tried their best, there may be emotional barriers," he said.

Yin suggested organising a team of local professional therapists to help Chinese families facing similar experiences in the future.

Although the government had become more efficient in marshalling resources and manpower when such events occur, a group of volunteers might be better suited to help families as they were "not representing a country" and "have fewer concerns".

Sun said that with the help of the Chinese government, local volunteers would have a better chance of entering the meeting room and working with the Malaysian volunteers.