Highlights

What’s in a name?

Apr 2020    

Amid the emerging global health crisis, an intense discussion may have gone unnoticed. Whilst the larger part of the scientific community were busy trying to understand how the novel coronavirus is spread or to develop a vaccine, others were trying to find a name for it. Finally, on 11 Feb 2020, the World Health Organisation decided on the name COVID-19.

What is in a name, one may wonder? Names are more than a play of words or mere semantics.

In counselling, we know that words have a big part to play in describing the client’s experience of a problem and in identifying its possible resolution. Yet, words can mean one thing to the user and another to the listener.  When a person says there is “no point carrying on”, is he saying that he feels a sense of hopelessness or that he intends to end his life, or perhaps both? Take the instance when a spouse hears her husband describe his betrayal as a “mistake” or an “indiscretion”, she may feel that he is downplaying his actions. Instead of helping the situation, his attempt to acknowledge his wrongdoing can spark a round of angry exchange.

However, an apt name can also be liberating—such as when a victim of domestic violence hears that what she has been experiencing is called spousal abuse. Although some are initially shocked by such a term, many have felt validated that their sense of outrage at being the recipient of such behaviour is finally acknowledged. With such recognition of their experience, they can begin the journey to recovery. This involves starting from being a person who cannot find a name for her experience to recognising that she is a victim to finally moving to be a survivor of family violence.

As important as it was to find a name for our current crisis and challenges, perhaps greater is the importance of remembering the name for its resolution. In the midst of our worries, where do we turn to for help?

The Psalmist reminds us that our help ultimately comes from “the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Ps 121:1). As we act responsibly and practise good personal hygiene, let us also remember to call on the name of the Lord, remembering too that one of His Names is Jehovah Rapha, meaning “the Lord who heals”. May this name remind us that we have a God who can bring ultimate healing and wholeness to body, mind and spirit.

Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award, received in 2011, and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.

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