WW43 September 27, 2017: Traumatic Stress Part 2: Not All Survivors Need to Express Emotions

Wednesday Wisdom Series: Traumatic Stress Part 2: Not all Survivors Need to Express Emotions
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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 II: Not All Survivors Need to
Express Emotions

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“Indeed, a past error in traumatic stress psychology, particularly regarding group or
mass traumas, was the assumption that all survivors need to express emotions
associated with trauma and talk about the trauma; more recent research indicates
that survivors who choose not to process their trauma are just as psychologically
healthy as those who do." [1]

In the previous issue of WW, we addressed newer research findings which show
that contrary to what many people believe, most survivors of traumatic experiences
are resilient and do not become psychologically impaired. In fact, most people
integrate the trauma and go on to live out meaningful lives. This week we will address
another myth associated with trauma survivors. Unlike what most people have been
led to believe, not every survivor needs to talk about their experience to heal.

Beginning in the mid-eighties, many companies and public agencies alike required
employees who responded together during a critical incident to assemble in a room
after the crisis and discuss their experiences. There have also been times following
mass tragedies where survivors (those who escaped physical harm in the crisis)
were assembled in a room and told that it was important for them to discuss their
experiences before leaving the site of the tragedy.

Foundation interviews with both uniformed personnel, special assistance and care
team responders and others who worked together during the crisis, showed that
while talking about their experiences felt right for some, for others it did not. In every
case where primary survivors were asked to express their feelings in the immediate
aftermath of the crisis, there was never a case where the interviewee felt the
practice to be helpful. Most preferred to go home to family and friends as opposed
to talking to strangers.

Current research used to inform agencies involved in offering support to trauma
survivors, whether it is a disaster, individual or group trauma, indicates that a
formal intervention is not appropriate during the acute phase of the event
(first 48 hours). Rather than bringing people together to discuss their emotions,
experts now agree that a hierarchy of needs should be established during the
acute phase of trauma which includes survival, safety, security, food, health
(physical and mental), an orientation of survivors to immediate local services and
communication with family and friends.

[1] 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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"The most recent psychological debriefing approaches emphasize respecting the
individual’s style of coping and not valuing one type over another.

In the nearly three decades since group debriefings became a common practice in
many organizations, scientific studies have shown that there is no one way to help
survivors of trauma, including the public, uniformed personnel, or other employee
groups. In Human Services Response™ training the course emphasizes providing
choices and options to empower survivors. At the Foundation, we believe that all
those who are involved in a traumatic response should know about options available
to them, and especially as related to discussing their experiences.

Those in leadership positions within an organization’s emergency response program
would do well to ensure that all the company's responders receive information about
resources and services available to them and opportunities to communicate with
family and friends—the same as other survivors. Leaders should also help to dispel
the myth that responders need to express their emotions to heal.

[2] Ibid.
© 2017 Higher Resources, Inc./Aviem International, Inc.
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