The whole world knows of the tragedy of June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. Now comes its aftermath.
We are all still reeling from the horror of the mass murder in Orlando, Fla., the worst of its kind in our nation’s history. But while we grieve for the victims, we also have to turn our attention to those whose loved ones have died or have been seriously injured. They are grieving for their loss and the life of their loved ones cut short. We must also keep sight of the shooting-survivors as they wonder, “Why me”? Their future is one in need of help and support as well.
Our gratitude goes out to the first responders, police followed by EMS and medical trauma teams. Beyond them, thank goodness for the many dedicated therapists and counselors who arrived on that scene! Their task was/is to treat the unseen damages.
How can the healing begin?
Exposure therapy is a technique in behavior therapy used to treat major anxiety disorders such as these. It involves the exposure of the patient to the feared object or context without any danger, in order to overcome their anxiety.
As to this approach, professor of psychiatry, Richard A. Friedman wonders, “What is the best way to help those who have been traumatized- the shooting-survivors? And what should happen to Pulse, the club where the massacre took place”?
Fellow mental health professionals vary in their response.” For years, therapists have been asking people who experienced trauma to talk about their experience in detail and express their feelings of helplessness and fear. Only this kind of emotional detoxification will allow survivors to process the life-threatening experience and move on — or so the thinking went”.
Friedman posits, “But while this seems intuitive and caring, there is little evidence that such debriefing works, and some (not a preponderance) studies show that it can actually be harmful”.
“Following a trauma, it is normal to have a range of reactions, from shock, anxiety and rage to a sense of numbness, detachment and unreality. Most people who are exposed to a life-threatening experience do not develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Only about 20 percent of adults develop PTSD following a trauma. People are resilient and usually heal on their own”.
Friedman’s version of Exposure Therapy (as he terms it, debriefing) is what the owner of Pulse, Barbara Poma, has vowed to do, reopen the club. “She probably isn’t thinking about the neuroscience of healing, but it’s the right thing to do nonetheless”. “I have to go back to that club,” she said. “The survivors do, too”.
Friedman recommends, “After atrocities like these, people understandably want nothing more than to forget. There is an understandable impulse to destroy these sites of horror, like Sandy Hook Elementary, which has been demolished, or shutter them, like the San Bernardino, Calif., Conference Center where 14 people were shot”.
“But the neuroscience of fear and memory suggests that this is a mistake. There is a value in preserving the physical places of collective trauma that goes beyond memorializing the victims and safeguarding our history”.
“This, we can do to help survivors, though it sounds counterintuitive: Preserve the physical site where the trauma took place. These sites can help the victims let go of the fear of their trauma and re-engage in life”.
Friedman finishes, “When it comes to basic behaviors like fear learning, these survivors might be able to lose their fear of a place where they were traumatized simply by returning there with the right psychological support (or accompanied by a close friend or family member who can reassure and comfort them)”. (Richard A. Friedman, Don’t Tear Down Pulse, NY Times, June 17, 2016. Friedman is a professor of clinical psychiatry and the director of the psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College, and a contributing opinion writer)
Still, exposure therapy can be effective. Read on:
What if these survivors could return to that traumatic scene with their therapist for psychological support? In this electronic era, this is possible.
Electronically, you can take your personal therapist along. These young people at Pulse, ages 25-45, are savvy electronically. They are comfortable using face-to-face social media such as Skype, Facetime, Hangouts, etc. on their devices.
This skill can work to their advantage.
Here’s how it works:
First, your therapist will Skype, Facebook, etc. you face to face in advance, walking you step-by-step through the initial phase of desensitization in Exposure Treatment. It begins by gradually imaging yourself in anxiety-provoking situations while learning how to work through your feelings of apprehension, while picturing yourself back at Pulse.
Next, he/she will guide you through relaxation techniques to work through your fears and anxieties, preparing you for actual exposure.
Finally, he/she will accompany you there, when you are ready. And, actually be there with you when you arrive. Yes, with you. You won’t be there alone. Here’s how. Together you will both schedule the actual exposure event so that you may see and talk with your therapist on your smart phone, tablet or notebook right there in your hand when you are there that day.
Realize, you may panic. That’s OK. It will subside. It always does, but your therapist can minimize it by talking you through it.
This is where CounselingonDemand.com comes in. We are online with you.
We are only a click away.
(Matthew Hunt MA MFT www.counselingondemand.com)
On your own you needn’t be pushed to talk about what happened to you; you could just sit in Pulse and see that the danger is over.
Do what you feel best.