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Christchurch Earthquake: The Day When Christchurch Changed Forever ... Tai Chi Instructors and Traumatic Stress: Make Friends With Your Limits

Christchurch Earthquake: 22 February 2011

The Day When Christchurch Changed Forever

Tai Chi Instructors and Traumatic Stress: Make Friends With Your Limits

Chris Hattle, Master Trainer, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Hazel Thompson, Senior Trainer, Christchurch, New Zealand

We write to you from a country which has literally been shaken to its core. Within the Tai Chi for Health Institute: Hazel is a Senior Trainer, in Christchurch, the city on which the whole world is focused as it deals with the aftermath of the devastating February 22nd earthquake; Chris is a Master Trainer based in Palmerston North, New Zealand, some distance from the disaster area.

Since the first earthquake in Christchurch in September 2010, we have become aware that people from Christchurch and the Canterbury region are moving away from the area into other areas of New Zealand.  These people, like other Cantabrians, are trying to cope with disrupted sleep patterns and haunting memories of disaster and trauma.

People from the Canterbury area have high likelihood of seeking activities which bring them calm and serenity.  They may well seek the experience of tai chi, throughout New Zealand or in the many other countries to which they may return or immigrate. We present these thoughts with Cantabrians in mind, also the many people in Australia who have experienced disaster through recent years. We also have in mind people who have similar challenges due to disasters individual to themselves.

There is need to consider the potential for these participants to begin to relax a little during tai chi sessions and react to recent trauma.  In many years to come they may reveal they have significant post traumatic shock syndrome.

As a tai chi teacher it is vital to know your limits and to be familiar with the referral procedure to professional support systems within the community. No-one can anticipate what may bring the memory of trauma to the fore.

Catalysts can include different sounds, a word/ phrase, a smell or a sight. The catalysts are very individual to the person living with post traumatic stress. Timing of reactions is unpredictable. The outward degree of reactions can be very different, from withdrawal to outburst.

• Know what to be aware of
• Listen
• Be quietly supportive  with assurance that reaction is normal
• Be clear about your own boundaries as a tai chi instructor
• Be positive and confident about being able to assist by referring to appropriate experts
• Enable agreement for you to refer to their General Practitioner or an appropriate agency.  These avenues for  referral can vary from place to place so know what is available in your area.
• Know that it is their GP who has their full medical knowledge and will be the advisor for the “whole person”
• Enable them to recognize the calm of tai chi as being positive, and so continue their tai chi with emphasis on focus.
People with post traumatic stress can be afraid of facing the trauma by seeking medical help. Just as we teach with a stepwise progressive teaching method, our conversation with them may need a stepwise progressive communication to enable the participant to agree to your assistance by referring them to the appropriate medical professionals.
Tai chi instructors will benefit their practice by having written policies and procedures on managing situations where traumatic stress is a likelihood.
• File the contact details for General Practitioners in the communities in which you work, along with lists of the agencies who also work in the field of traumatic stress.
• Seek continuing education on the signs and symptoms of post traumatic stress
• Meet with a tai chi instructor peer group and/or communicate your concerns to the Master Trainers or Senior trainers in your area. This can be also be arranged in the form of formal supervision, on a regular basis

We write these things with the people of Canterbury in mind. The skills of managing situations in tai chi sessions have relevance throughout the world.  They are skills which we, as tai chi instructors can grow into and develop more. They are important skills to ensure assistance is delivered by those best equipped to manage post trauma presentations.

This link  has excellent information for anyone facing difficult times:


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