TOKYO – Experts fear a mental health crisis is looming because fewer than 20 psychotherapists specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder are available to practice in the disaster-hit Tohoku region, The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported.

It is estimated that 5 to 10 percent of people faced with traumatic near-death experiences will suffer from PTSD, the symptoms of which include having terrifying flashbacks over a long period of time.

Survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, as well as people involved in rescue and relief operations such as searching for bodies, are likely to suffer from PTSD.

Psychiatric expert and National Defense Medical College lecturer Jun Shigemura said the number of PTSD patients resulting from the events of March 11 could possibly reach several thousand.

Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to PTSD patients but are considered effective in only 20 to 40 percent of cases.

More successful is exposure treatment, a technique in behavior therapy that involves exposure without danger to the feared object or context while the therapist comforts the client to reduce anxiety.

According to Takako Konishi, a Musashino University professor in its faculty of human studies, about 70 percent of patients with PTSD will see improvement within three or four months if they receive specialized treatment from experienced therapists.

However, there are fewer than 20 such specialists across the nation and none of them practice in the Tohoku region.

Commonly practiced in Europe and the United States, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy is said to help patients work through traumatic memories.

During treatment, a patient recalls an experience while the therapist waves his or her finger in front of the patient from side to side like a wiper.

However, there are fewer than 20 EMDR specialists available in Tohoku, according to Masaya Ichii, a professor at the Center for Research on Human Development and Clinical Psychology at Hyogo University of Teacher Education.

This kind of psychotherapy is not common in Japan because therapists do not receive much compensation.