WW42 September 13, 2017: Traumatic Stress Part 1: Environment as a Key Factor in a Survivor’s Recovery

Wednesday Wisdom Series: Traumatic Stress Part 1: Environment as a Key Factor in a Survivor’s Recovery
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Here is your bi-monthly Wednesday Wisdom series from the Family Assistance
Foundation, reminding you that a fully-integrated approach for assisting survivors of
traumatic loss involves a balance of head and heart. Wednesday Wisdom is written
and copyrighted by Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D. and distributed by the Family
Assistance Education & Research Foundation Inc., fafonline.org. Reprint is available
with written permission from the Foundation. 

Traumatic Stress Part I: Environment as a Key
Factor in a Survivor's Recovery

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“Trauma informed care embraces a perspective that highlights adaptation over
symptoms and resilience over pathology.”

                                    (Elliot, Bjelajac, Fallot, Markoff, & Reed, 2005, p. 467) [1]

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma prompted us at the Foundation to write the next two
WW articles about traumatic stress. During and following the storms, we assisted
many members as they supported their employees and families—and many of our
own team members were impacted. 

According to US Department of Health and Human Services, as defined in the
manual for Trauma Informed Care
[2], “trauma results from an event, series of
events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or
emotionally harmful or threatening and that (potentially) has lasting adverse effects
on the individual's functioning and physical, social, emotional or spiritual well-being."

Whereas trauma was once considered an abnormal experience, the growing body of
research shows that people are highly adaptive and resilient. The attacks of
September 11, 2001, and other acts of terror, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,
disastrous hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, and sexual abuse scandals, have moved
trauma to the forefront of international awareness. Those who respond to traumatic
events can benefit greatly from the studies that these tragedies engendered.

Extensive research tells us that It is not the event itself that determines whether
something is traumatic, as individuals experience and interpret these events in vastly
different ways. Personal variables about a person’s pre-disaster experiences such
as physical and psychological health, as well as social support/resources will also 
contribute to how one copes with trauma and a survivor’s long-term recovery.

The Human Services Response™ (HSR) Training model has always included 
relevant information about individual's experience of the trauma as key to recovery.
Disaster experience includes all that happens to the person as the crisis is taking
place—and all of those with whom the survivor interacts. We know that a survivor's
experience of the event includes how an organization responds to the needs of an
. As such the very purpose of HSR is to provide an environment where
the survivor has the best possibility of moving forward in their healing
from the trauma.

While HSR cannot affect pre-existing variables associated with an individual
exposed to trauma such as personal health and personal support, HSR does affect
other factors that are known to exacerbate the harmful effects of trauma such as
length of trauma and available resources.

Using Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy as a basis for response to primary survivors or
those in harm’s way as well as their families, HSR trained employees are
empowered to provide food, shelter, and all basic needs, while simultaneously
fostering communication among anxious relatives and primary survivors.
Interviews conducted by the Foundation show that survivors are grateful for
these necessary resources provided by the company who has the means to
assist them during the crisis. Our research also indicates that information is the
number one need for frightened, anxious relatives who want desperately to know
about their loved one(s) who are traveling or working for that company during
the time of the crisis. This need, can only be satisfied by a well-prepared telephone
call center that can respond quickly and humanely—a cornerstone of
the HSR program.

[1] Elliott, D.E., Bjelajac, P.,Fallot, R.D., Markoff, L.S. & Reed, B.G. (2005).
Trauma-informed or trauma denied: Principles and implementation of trauma-informed
services for women. Journal of Community Psychology, 33, 461-477. 
[2] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Trauma-Informed Care
in No. (SMA) 13-4801. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration, 2014.
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"A program, organization, or system that is trauma informed realizes the widespread
impact of trauma and understands potential paths for healing…and responds by fully
integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, practices,
and settings".
(SAMSHA, 2012) [3]
A well-planned and executed response by an organization during a crisis involving
their employees, customers, and associated families affects the individual’s
experience of disaster—positively or negatively. A well-prepared organization can
use its resources to assist survivors, thereby helping them regain equilibrium and
connection to loved ones quickly. Lack of response prolongs the trauma and leaves
survivors without resources, unnecessarily. Lack of telephonic communication
systems further disempowers families, creating anxiety and anger that significantly
impedes long-term adjustment to traumatic events.

The Foundation continues to emphasize the importance of planning, training and
evaluating an organization’s response program in advance of the actual traumatic
event. Testing of phone lines and effectiveness of telephone responders should be
at the top of the ‘to do’ list for every person in an emergency management
leadership position, at least quarterly.

[3] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, (2012). National
Registry of Effective Programs and Practices.
© 2017 Higher Resources, Inc./Aviem International, Inc.
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