eNewsletter - November 2017
Behavioral Health Partners
Trauma and Crisis Response in the Community
By: Megan Walsh, LCPC
A traumatic event can happen at any time and can take many forms. Some traumas are natural such as a hurricane, flood or fire, while others are human-made such as family violence, suicide or a car accident.
And while trauma can impact a large group of people, each person has a unique experience to that trauma. Each survivor is unique in terms of the range of emotions and reactions they may have to that trauma. Imagine that a pebble thrown into a pond is the traumatic, stressful event. A person’s reactions are like the ripples which may continue long after the pebble penetrates the water.
It is completely normal to experience physical, psychological and emotional reactions. These are the natural and normal result of the trauma or crisis that was experienced. Famed psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl says it best: “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.”
Common physical reactions range from gastric upset, numbness, tingling, headaches and rapid heart rate or breathing. Strong emotions such as anxiety, anger or irritability, fear, guilt or suicidal/homicidal ideation are normal reactions to extraordinary situations. Some may experience cognitive changes including, poor judgement, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, dissociation or intrusive recollections.
Others may revert back to old coping styles and/or act very different than their usual selves. They may display behaviors such as pacing, hypervigilance, avoidance, increased use of alcohol and other substances, or increased risky or violent behaviors. While some experience several of the above reactions, others may not experience any—and that’s normal as well.
There is no guidebook about how people are going to react to trauma, and it can be harmful to place expectations on what is the “correct” way to respond. What helps is understanding and reassuring people that what they’re experiencing is a normal response and there isn’t something wrong with them.
Validating a person’s response and expressing belief in their resiliency, or their ability to return to their natural state of functioning, are powerful ways to help and support someone who’s experienced a trauma. Promoting self-care is also important. Encouraging someone to follow a normal routine as much as possible and to eat well-balanced meals and get enough sleep helps people find their equilibrium.
Having a few drinks may feel good in the moment, but increased use of alcohol or other substances can delay a person’s recovery and make it that much harder to process feelings and understand reactions to a trauma. Taking breaks from social media and the news is also healthy as constantly reading about the crisis can be traumatizing in its own way. Finding someone to talk to, whether its friends, family, peers, clergy or a counselor is also helpful. People don’t have to try to heal on their own.
When trauma occurs in a large group, such as in a school or workplace, we know that there are a large amount of people with a large amount of emotions and reactions to process. That school or workplace then has the impossible job of maintaining their daily operations while supporting a workforce and/or customer/student population who may be affected by this crisis as well. Because of the wide impact of the trauma, it helps to have a plan to support your organization members, staff and/or students and their mental health needs. For example, pull in support from outside organizations that are removed from the immediate situation and can help address the emotional needs of your staff, community, customers and/or students.
Developing a formalized crisis response plan and/or contacting a mental health crisis response team after a trauma can help you address a large variety of responses and emotions in an efficient manner. For example, the Crisis Response Healing Team at Linden Oaks offers individualized support and intervention services, free of charge, as a service to the community. These services include 1:1 assessments, small and large group briefings, and connection to mental health resources and referrals. The Crisis Response Healing Team employs skills like supportive listening, grief/trauma education and normalizing reactions/emotions to encourage resiliency and coping skills in effected individuals. These skills are crucial in restoring a sense of normality after a crisis.
Trauma affects us all in different ways, but that means there are many pathways to healing. For more information on the Crisis Response Healing Team, contact 630-305-5027.
Megan Walsh, LCPC
Megan is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. She has worked at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health for four years in a variety of roles including a leadership role in the Assessment and Referral Center. Currently, Megan works in the Marketing Department as a liaison where she is responsible for new business development initiatives. Megan has 10+ years’ experience in the behavioral health field including community counseling and work at a domestic violence shelter.