Norway after the shootings: A psychologist looks at the country's response to terror

Dr Roderick Orner, a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and Chartered Psychologist, is in Norway at present. We spoke to him about the country’s reaction to last week’s atrocities.

Dr Orner, who originally comes from Norway himself, told us that there was at first a “strange sense of quiet” in Norway, which he likens to the wider reaction to the atrocity of 9/11 when we had all “lost our cushion of safety”. Norway is a small, wealthy and ordered nation, and the general assumption was that such atrocities were not the sort of thing that happened there.

The public response at first showed a remarkable determination that last week’s events should not jeopardise the values of Norwegian society. Dr Orner says that the country’s political and social leaders displayed excellent leadership skills in mobilising the population in support of freedom, tolerance and democracy.

Norwegian media also displayed a great sense of responsibility by concentrating on the facts of the situation rather than speculation. A very psychologically minded psychiatrist has been playing a prominent part in television discussions, emphasising the need for reason to prevail.

There has been a “turning towards ritual” in Norway, both privately and publicly, with people having flowers and lit candles in their own homes and also taking part in demonstrations. On Monday more than 100,000 people assembled in Oslo – a remarkable crowd in a country the size of Norway. Dr Orner suggests that people were demonstrating a need for intimacy and closeness at a time of crisis as well as making a public statement of their determination to carry on as normal.

More recently, people have begun to ask how Norway could have nurtured such a person. Dr Orner himself suggests that it is not enough to blame it on drugs or the mental illness of one individual – the killings were meticulously planned over several years, which is not the mark of a disordered mind.

There is as tradition of violent right-wing politics in Norway, but perhaps because that violence has been expressed in sectarian disputes, there has been no government-funded research into the Norwegian far right for the last 10 years.

Dr Orner worked in the British NHS for many years and is now in private practice. He is a former President of the European Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

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