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The British Psychological Society:  Media Mm11

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The British Psychological Society: Media

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The British Psychological Society:  Media Empty The British Psychological Society: Media

Harriet Gross and Jill Owen write.

INTERNATIONAL Missing Children’s Day (25 May) dawned amidst the third week of a media frenzy surrounding the search for missing four-year-old, Madeleine McCann. The widespread coverage has constituted a major part of the sophisticated campaign launched by the McCanns in their attempt to find their daughter.

After the initial days following Madeleine’s disappearance, the McCanns proactively channelled all their energy into their cause. Press reports suggest this shift followed the arrival of a team of experts that included a forensic psychologist, criminal behaviour experts and trauma counsellors. It seems the McCanns were encouraged to focus on positive visualisation to give them the strength to turn their hope into action. The Daily Mail reported that trauma counsellors encouraged them to imagine Madeleine running through a door and into their arms. In an interview in First Magazine, Alan Pike, a trauma consultant from Yorkshire-based Centre for Crisis Psychology, said he encouraged the McCanns to imagine Madeleine was ‘somewhere safe, warm, and being cared for appropriately’. He also advocated adopting a routine in order to induce a sense of control. The McCann’s daily routine has been widely publicised and is updated by Gerry McCann’s blog on the Madeleine website.

Although the McCanns described intense feelings of guilt, their positive determination to think forward and focus on what they can do now appears to have enabled them to cope. Mary Riddell of The Observer suggested they dread the fading of the media attention, as it is in this campaign that their hopes lie. But although the McCann’s message is being effectively delivered to the public, the difficulty the police face in communicating with the abductor was discussed in The Times by David Canter, Professor of Psychology at the University of Liverpool. The only line of contact they have is through media statements and it is important to adopt sufficient sensitivity so as not to scare the abductor into making the situation tragic. Canter says ‘the priority will be to prevent the offender from thinking he has no way out, that he has no options or control over the situation’. Other psychological angles covered in the media included reports that ‘a child psychologist will this week begin explaining to the twins why their four-year-old sister has been away from the family for more than three weeks and to help them prepare for the long-term consequences of her disappearance’ (The Times). On BBC Radio Leicester, child psychologist Clode Knight (Kidscape) trod very sensitive ground with speculation over the effects on Madeleine herself. But interestingly, the Society’s Media Centre reported far fewer enquiries from journalists than they had received in response to other national crime stories such as the Ipswich murders.There was, however, some general discussion as to how parents cope with a world where child abduction occurs, though few psychologists provided input. In one article (The Times) sociologists such as Professor Frank Furedi warn against a tendency towards paranoid parenting, suggesting this can leave children inadequately equipped prepared to cope with the world. Parents are left with the challenge of creating an appropriate balance where both safety and independence are fostered. David Hughes (Daily Telegraph) describes Madeleine as ‘an emotional lightning conductor’ for the country’s hopes and fears, the overwhelming public response being a means of coping with a feeling of helplessness. As the McCanns have channelled their fears into action, the public have written cheques, tied ribbons and lit candles, perhaps gaining comfort that they are doing something to increase the chances of Madeleine’s safe return.

    Jill Owen and Harriet Gross

The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made" - Groucho Marx

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