Little Ones and the Unthinkable

Incidents like yesterday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College put our resilience to the test. We will grieve because of it. We will each process the tragic incident in our own way. We continue to move on. Life goes on.

For children, it’s more complicated. Their personal resilience is not yet fully developed. children playingThey rely on their support system’s resilience to get them through disaster. For most, this means turning to parents and other significant adults for comfort and direction.

What should we say to a child when he or she asks about the horrific? Especially when it involves a shooting at a school, an environmental setting that is so prominent in their own lives. We cannot completely hide such incidents from them, given how they promote so much discussion and media coverage. What can we do to help keep a child from becoming an emotional casualty, after the fact? Continue reading

Taking Care of the Helper

“Thanks for all you do.” Those who observe the effort, sacrifice and dedication of workers helping others during adversity often share this sincere appreciation. Their kind words do help.

The most critical need for the helper journey is ongoing restoration of the soul. The spirit of disengagedwhat leads us into public service occasionally needs replenishing. Without it we become depleted, “burnt-out” as labeled by the vernacular. It matters not whether we’re helping as a friend or neighbor, an agency volunteer, or a professional responder.

There isn’t one right answer for how to best avoid burnout. We each find our own answer to the question, “What restores me?” Continue reading

When the Ground Beneath Us Vanishes

Disaster is like that. Trauma often is, as well. It’s like the rug being pulled out from under. All that flying carpetseems solid, all that props up our self image, our routines, the view of our world and our place in it, is suddenly no longer there. We are vulnerable, protective coatings somehow stripped away.

How can we go on, in the face of any adverse life event that has left us feeling so exposed? How do we regain a sense of safety, and wholeness?

An adversity’s rightful place on the shelf of our recollections shifts throughout a lifetime. Still, there are ways to coax back a present sense of wholeness and wellbeing, even after disaster. Continue reading

Why Are There Anniversary Reactions?

Another September 11th has come and gone. Remembrances were shared, stories told, honors given. We pick up, we move on.

Yet feelings may linger. Perhaps it is something you can’t exactly put a finger on–some timevague discomfort. Maybe it’s an unidentifiable sense of loss, anxiety, or anger. Whatever it is, it followed a crescendo as the date approached, and now slowly ebbs as time marches beyond.

Why do anniversary reactions happen? Not just on September 11th, but on any date marking an experience of trauma or loss? Continue reading

PTSD and the Brain

“I heard PTSD is tied to brain damage. Does that mean it’s forever?”

For many years science suggested that once the brain reached maturity, it stopped growing and replacing cells. If a person suffered brain damage, it was thought to be neuronpermanent.

This perspective has changed. We now know neurons in the brain form new connections throughout our lives. New learning is both facilitated and stored by way of such rewiring. Continue reading

The Way of Resilience

If you’ve had anything to do with disaster over the past decade or three, you’ve no doubt run across something called “debriefing.” Critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) started up among firefighters. They used it after especially traumatic responses as a way of tending to unpleasant emotional reactions. They typically got together with their teams and followed a specific discussion protocol, delving into feelings about the incident, then moving toward coping or resolution. They found debriefing very useful for avoiding burnout. Over time, other emergency responders began using the debriefing process.

concentrationEventually groups of disaster and other trauma survivors were collected together and given debriefing. The hope was that it might help them similarly resolve related emotional issues.

Unfortunately, when science caught up and measured the outcome of practicing it among such groups, it found no improvement. Surprisingly, at times it identified more emotional issues among them than among survivors who did not go through debriefing. How could this happen? Continue reading

Trauma, or Broadcast Drama?

fire emergency“What a mess. Those poor people. How horrible. I’d like to help…but wouldn’t I end up just as messed up as the people on TV look? What about vicarious trauma? Compassion fatigue? Even PTSD?”

It’s true. Helping with disaster isn’t for everybody.

However, if you’re never been through disaster, and you base your perspective solely on what you see in the media, you may not have a balanced view. Dramatic scenes of damage, suffering victims, and emotionally overwhelmed emergency responders are the usual favored fare. They get the most press because they sell advertising space better than stories about those who rise to the challenge. Continue reading