Sabbatical Blog

...chronicling some of my projects and learnings during this time apart from parish ministry

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Talking about Trauma

I spent two days at a Critical Incident Stress Management seminar, learning to do brief group debriefings after traumatic events, such as bank robberies, employee suicide, shooting sprees, etc. Part of that training was showing a lot of videos of REALLY traumatic events, like the Oklahoma City bombing, a plane crash, a drowning of three children, and a wild fire that destroyed an entire neighborhood and killed 25 people.

Before this particular technology was developed, people mostly dealt with trauma by just going on with their lives. The result was PTSD, often undiagnosed, physical stress, and "burn out." For instance, we were told that of the 5 Air Traffic Controllers and one dispatcher involved in a plane crash which we listened to in agonizing detail; a crash in which several hundred people died, two never returned to work, two died and one developed cancer within the year. That was 20 years ago; a lot has been learned since then about helping people through trauma.

Talking helps...we all know that, even if we find it hard to do. Learning that the symptoms we're having, like bad dreams, sleep and appetite disruptions, and so on are normal and will diminish, helps too. It turns out that in a group of five or six people, just hearing each other's stories and telling their own (what was your role, what happened, what was hardest for you, what symptoms are you experiencing) gives most people in most situations enough control of their emotions back that they can move on with their lives. No deep therapy necessary, usually. This process can happen years later and be beneficial; they showed us footage of a group of survivors of a 1947 school explosion that killed (in a small town) 400 of their classmates. Until someone staged a 40 year reunion, many had never spoken of their experiences, and they felt that it had helped a lot.

Although I took this training so that I could volunteer to be of assistance in public disasters like 9/11, I realize that there have been several times in the ordinary course of my ministry that it could have been useful. I definitely recommend this training to my colleagues...indeed, to anyone who has an interest.

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