Dear Huan Yi,
First, thanks for your response to my posting on torture. It was good to hear from you.
When the "experts" are sent in to the scene of a crime, an accident or an illness, they're doing what's called "crisis intervention." I have to admit when I say "send in the experts" it sounds a heck of a lot more like "send in the clowns" than it does like "send in the marines." But there are a couple of reasons why it makes sense.
From studies with combat vets, accident victims, incest survivors and like folks, we know that in the hours immediately after the initial shock, the people on the short and dirty end of the stick tend to play a natural psychological trick on themselves in the interests of being able to function. They take the event and the memory of the event, including the sensory details such as physical sensations, smells, sights and sounds and store them in a separate piece of memory. They know it's there, somewhat, but they don't experience it.
A lot of the psychological energy that goes into keeping the memory separate is energy the person needs for other things, like going to school, thinking, raising a family. Depending on the severity of the experience and how much material is being kept away from the person's attention, an awful lot of energy can be used. Sometimes, this trick doesn't work so well, and the memory will come back completely in its original state, like a flashback. Experiences like this can be devastating. The diagnostic name given to this process is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD.
If somebody who's been exposed to this sort of trauma can be seen reasonably quickly after the experience, the details of the experience can be wired back into the rest of the memory system, where they can be processed by the brain through dreaming and other methods. They still have a rough experience to deal with, but one that will gradually assume proper proportion in relationship to the other events in the person's life.
If it can be done quickly and on the spot, the overall effect on the person, his family and the society as a whole is less. A nice side effect is that the actual monetary cost is less as well, given that the treatment is short-term and focal, and the trauma hasn't had a chance to affect the person's general level of functioning yet. If time is allowed to pass, the trauma will influence other portions of the person's functioning—grades, family life, ability to hold jobs, you name it, and the task becomes larger, more expensive and the prognosis more guarded.
There are many ways of going about the process. Some involve simply going over the details of what happened when and how people reacted to them when each thing happened, and doing it in very fine detail. Groups are frequently useful for this approach for a number of reasons. If you want to know more about Groups, I believe Irwin Yalom is still the standard reference, or one of them, and he could explain the details of that better than I could in a short space.
Another approach is called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming: EMDR for short. It works very well for PTSD; better for more recent traumas, I believe, than more distant ones, though that may to some extent depend on the skill of the practitioner. A description in a short space would only do it an injustice, but if you google it, there should be a good sized data base. It's well researched. It's not applied in groups to the best of my knowledge, but it's pretty cost effective for limited tauma. Very cost effective, actually.
I am skeptical when it comes to talking about closure in regard to PTSD or actually grief or mourning in general.
I may be a minority opinion in saying this. I believe that
The pathology that comes with trauma or grief or mourning doesn't come from the trauma or grief or mourning itself, but from the refusal to acknowledge other emotions and thoughts that are also present at the same time. Treatment success to my mind is getting the patient to attend to the other thoughts and feelings that are also present and allowing the trauma or grief or mourning to be there but to slowly assume its proper proportion among them.
Perhaps if you want to call that closure, I would go along with that.