"What should I do? Should I start over? Should I kill myself?" is what one distraught woman asked him at the Dream Center in Los Angeles.
"Sometimes it's hard for us to relate to that because we've never been in that situation," McGraw explains to The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "She came out of New Orleans. All of a sudden she's halfway across the United States. She is handicapped. She's getting on in years. Her home is gone. Her family is gone and she's alone. A lot of people from New Orleans think you got to have a passport to get into California. I mean, it's a totally different world to them."
McGraw's advice to her was to live in the here and now. Don't look back; the past is too painful. And don't look ahead; the future is too hard.
"They're still in shock, somewhat," McGraw says of the thousands who may be experiencing similar feelings. "I don't think the enormity of this has really gotten through to everyone yet."
Having previously visited other disaster zones, McGraw says there are some stages he has seen people go through, and expects to see in those affected by Katrina:
First Stage: Adrenaline Rush — "Everybody is like, 'All right, we're going to fight, we're going to survive,'" he says. "And thank God that we have that reaction, because it gets us through those difficult times. But the hardest time is really not in those first weeks."
Second Stage: Reality Sets In — "The hardest time is when the headlines change, the TV cameras go away, the newness, the adrenalin fades and then you're just left with the devastation. You're left with so much gone. And insurance is paying slowly, the government moves like a dinosaur and people have moved on to another thing."
He also got to talk with a family who had been very wealthy, but lost everything to Katrina; they are relying on food stamps. McGraw tells them they need to accept the enormity of what has happened and get on with their lives.
Third Stage: Get A Plan And Have A Routine — "Get back to normalcy as much as you can," McGraw says. "People make a big mistake in allowing children to not follow the rules anymore. They say: 'We've been through such a tough thing, just let them backtalk, stay up late,' all that. They don't need that. They need the same thing day after day. They do need order. Then you start setting short-term goals. Let's get through today; get through this week; and then we'll look long-term."
As the region continues the slow process of recovery and rebuilding, McGraw says he is proud to be an American and see the compassionate side of those who are helping victims.
"I've seen people open their hearts, homes, their checkbooks," he says. "I've never been more proud to be an American than in watching what everyone is doing for our fellow citizens. I've really asked people to mark their calendars for the first of October, November, December, January and February to remind themselves what's happening with the Katrina people."
Tune in to Wednesday's The Early Show as McGraw gives a preview of the fourth season of his show.
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