BC Expert: Trauma for Families of the Missing; Washington Mudslide & Malaysian Airliner
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Lynch School of Education Professor
Usha Tummala-Narra is a licensed psychologist with an expertise in multicultural psychology, psychological trauma, ethnic and racial discrimination among immigrant communities, and race and ethnicity in the psychotherapeutic process. Widely published, Tummula-Narra has authored: “Psychotherapy with South Asian Women: Dilemmas of the Immigrant and First Generations” (Women and Therapy); “Psychoanalytic Applications in a Diverse Society” (Psychoanalytic Psychology) and co-authored “Perceived Discrimination and Depressive Symptoms Among Immigrant-Origin Adolescents” (Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology); “Violence Exposure and Mental Health Among Adolescents: The Role of Ethnic Identity and Help Seeking” (Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy); and “Voices of Older Asian Indian Immigrants” (Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 2013).
It’s been nearly three weeks since a Malaysian airliner vanished, and nearly a week since a landslide in Oslo, Wash. wiped out a neighborhood. In the case of the missing flight, two hundred and 39 people were on board, while in Washington the death toll stands at 25 -- but with at least 90 people accounted for, that figure is expected to climb sharply. Through it all, the families of those still missing are wracked with uncertainty, confusion, and pain, and in many cases, they’re filling the void of information with the only thing they have - hope.
“It’s very hard to accept,” says Assistant Professor Usha Tummala-Narra, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist with the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. “For some people, I think at this time it may be impossible to accept the likelihood that their family member has died in the absence of any definitive proof. When you don’t see the body, then how can you have a funeral? And how can you proceed with accepting the worst?”
Among those with loved ones on the Malaysian airliner, efforts to cope with their worst fears have been compounded with updates concerning multiple search sites and theories of what brought the plane down, while in Washington, rain has slowed down the rescue effort covering an area a square mile wide and 40 feet deep in some places. While time may heal all wounds, it’s having the opposite effect for families on both sides of the world.
“While they are still recovering bodies in Washington, there’s still that kind of hope that families maintain to some degree, whether that’s based on something rational or not,” says Tummala-Narra, an expert in psychological trauma. “With the case of the Malaysian airliner, there are so many different theories about what could have happened and I think when you have those multiple possibilities out there, then it sort of raises all kinds of different notions of survival or death. It’s a very difficult thing to accept when they actually haven’t seen the bodies, haven’t seen the entire aircraft. Where are these reports coming from? So when you have these theories out there, I think it’s very hard to know which one to go with.”
Shock and sadness are two of the feelings of those left behind, and guilt may be another.
“A lot of family members and loved ones feel a great deal of guilt where they are surviving while other people in their family have died,” says Tummala-Narra. “Even though there is nothing they could have done to control the situation, they may feel like they could have done something and are experiencing guilt because of this."
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