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9/11 Shows Psychology's Shortcomings

Report gives humbling assessment of therapists' work
By Tim Karan,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 29, 2011 5:45 PM CDT

(Newser) – Psychologists rushing to Ground Zero on September 11 might have done more harm than good. Experts overestimated how many people—including firefighters and police who responded—would experience stress for a prolonged period following the disaster, according to a report coming out in American Psychologist. Many also might have been too quick to diagnose Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to those watching on TV, says the New York Times.

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Mental health workers who provided therapy on the scene often made survivors talk about the event, which caused anger, sadness, and annoyance in those forced to relive it. Therapists working in makeshift offices—one person called them "trauma tourists"— might have been only making themselves feel better. “We did a case study in New York and couldn’t really tell if people had been helped by the providers—but the providers felt great about it,” says a co-author of one of the articles. “It makes sense; we know that altruism makes people feel better.” (Read more September 11 stories.)

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