The intensive search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 entered its second month yesterday.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are very experienced with helping individuals and organizations in times of crisis, but the unprecedented scope and circumstances of the Malaysian Air disaster, and the continuing uncertainty about the plane’s fate, have created unique challenges for the EAP professionals working to support the families, friends and employers of Flight 370 passengers.
Paul Yin (Beijing) and Grace Ding (Shanghai), EAP consultants based in China, are part of a team of 22 EAP professionals who have been helping those most affected by the disaster. On March 20, 2014 Paul and Grace were interviewed by the Journal of Employee Assistance and shared some observations and insights on their experience.
They describe the diverse array of support services the EAP team is delivering:
- One-to-one counseling sessions and group support meetings at the hotel where passenger families were staying, especially at the news conferences.
- Educational seminars to assist those providing companionship to family members.
- E-newsletters with articles, such as “How to comfort a grieving person”, which have been read by more than 3,000 people on mobile devices and re-shared by many more through social media channels.
- Two hotlines providing telephonic support and consultation.
- Visits to the homes of elder parents and to company worksites that had employees on the flight
Mr. Yin talked about how important the media was in helping to publicize the availability of the EAP team. He took to wearing the same leather jacket and red and white scarf so he could be easily spotted in a crowd by families who wanted to talk to him.
Mr. Yin said the EAP team recognized early on that the passenger families’ “circle of trust [was] very small and …most members of that circle [were] equally affected emotionally with little ability to support each other.” This was especially true with families that lost their younger members and had only elderly family members remaining.
In response, the EAP team developed an innovative approach to building a support system around the families. They located friends of the missing sons and daughters and helped prepare these friends to offer support to the parents and grandparents.
Every additional day of uncertainty is agonizing for the relatives of the missing. They wait, in grief and pain, for facts about how their loved ones died and for a body to bury.
Our profession should be very proud of the dedicated EAP consultants who wait with them.