There is no doubt that the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was a catastrophe for hundreds of thousands of people. But for Linda Fancy, it gave her the impetus to bring together the strands of her experience as a counsellor, crisis management consultant and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) practitioner to create a programme to help relief workers cope with the emotional maelstrom of helping others in that time of crisis.
Today, Fancy, who has lived in Hong Kong since 1998, runs a more refined version of this early programme, a one-day workshop called Personal Power, to help city dwellers deal with their own personal turmoil.
"I was in Sri Lanka just after the tsunami and, like so many others, I wondered what I could do to help," says Fancy. Although she had experience helping others in Hong Kong, she felt ill equipped to deal with a disaster of this kind. However, an unexpected interaction with a distressed man who had survived the tsunami by climbing a tree gave her the confidence to step forward.
"I was hired by the UN and the Sri Lanka Ministry of Health to support medical graduates doing psychosocial field work. I saw there was a problem with burnout, as these freshly graduated doctors and nurses had not been taught any self-management techniques, and all too easily identified with and became 'damaged' by the emotions of the very people they were trying to help."
And so the MeManagement self-awareness programme was born, scribbled out on a flip chart and offered as a self-help programme to the graduates along with relief workers at other NGOs.
Fancy herself had a traumatic childhood with the loss of four close family members. This, she says, gave rise to deep-seated feelings of abandonment, and through her early life would make her overly sensitive to rejection, real or imagined.
"I attended workshop after workshop, seeing many truths, but with minimal change," she says. "One of the turning points came when I was introduced to the more results-oriented NLP techniques, and undertook certification so that I could better understand my mind. I had dabbled in self-hypnosis with astounding results, so the different mind awareness techniques came easily to me."
NLP processes can help participants make peace with self-sabotaging inner voices, through the use of techniques to moderate or reframe thoughts. The technique is popular, especially where quick results are required, such as in an environment of crisis, because it doesn't dwell on the causes of behaviour but seeks to allow patients to "move on".
The techniques stand at odds with classical psychoanalysis - or the "talking cure" - where the focus is on understanding the cause of emotional reactions. The conflict between the methods is illustrated in the recent film, A Dangerous Method, about the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. In the end the friendship cools as they diverge in their beliefs; Jung believing that while psychoanalysis can reveal the cause of unwanted behaviour, it cannot cure the patient.
Fancy has found what she believes to be the middle ground: "While the initial programme focused more on reframing and disassociation techniques, it quickly became apparent that you do need to see the roots of your behaviour in order to manage your mindset. It's all very well doing a workshop and leaving full of good spirits and intention, but it is easy to fall back into old habits when you are involved in an emotional situation."
With her painful childhood, Fancy realises more than most that our early years do have an impact on the way we think and react. "We are born without a sense of self but as we grow we create a conditioned identity of 'me', and with our absorption of language and influences come a whole range of 'me' - the doubter, the self-righteous, the neglected, the needy, the independent.
"Science has shown that 95 per cent of the time we are automated in our responses to life, operating on the premise of our conditioned thoughts, which more often than not are unreliable; they are just our childhood perception of affairs, which can be very distorted.
"I provide people with models to help them see the roots of their conditioning, and then stand back as if witnessing their inner 'me'. From that place, which I call the MetaMind, you are able to act like a movie director - you can call the cut on destructive thoughts, and then move to the next scene. Where you put your thoughts is where you put, and potentially lose, your power."
But rather than spend weeks in counselling, the Personal Power workshop attendees run through a series of exercises in a day, learn disassociation techniques, develop a better awareness of "me" with drawing and charting exercises, and pick up tools and techniques to help regain and maintain balance.
"The best thing about Fancy's course is that you walk away with real tools that you can use on your own," says workshop attendee Jane. "You're taught simple meditation and visualisation techniques, and creative methods for drawing and mapping your life, thoughts, emotions and perceptions."
Another attendee, Nathan, an airline pilot, says: "From the start of the workshop I saw immediately why I act and think the way I do. The programme gave a good insight into who I am and how to adjust my thoughts. It also helped me gain energy by letting needless thoughts go."
While Fancy runs a regular public workshop, she also offers corporate and one-on-one sessions. "It's amazing how these simple exercises can allow people to step back and see how their the mindset drives their reactions, and this then frees them to choose how they want to respond to life in every moment," she says.
This is personal power.
For more information on Fancy's workshops, visit her website: www.me-management.net