Catholic Charities’ Counseling SERVICES responds to tragedy

By Ernesto C. López, Jr. NCC, LPC-S
Program Director, Counseling Services Program

Today’s news reports indicate that most of the children of Newtown, Connecticut are returning to school. For many children and parents alike this may be the first step they are taking toward restoring a sense of security and normalcy in their lives following the tragic events that occurred in their community last Friday. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Unexpected events, especially those that affect our sense of security and well-being or result in the loss of life, can impact many of us in ways that we may not expect. We may be especially surprised when we experience intense feelings of loss, grief and sorrow in response to events that have taken place far away and to people with whom we seemingly have no immediate connection. We may also experience fear, anxiety, and the need to remain close to others, especially loved ones, following news of such events.

These experiences are often normal and understandable reactions to other’s pain and a heightened sense of the dangers around us. Although, the potential for danger is a reality we face daily in completing routine tasks like our commute into work, we often go about such routines without too much focus on the associated risk. However, acts of violence or terroristic events may act to heighten our awareness and possibly alter our perceptions about the level of risk we face.

Mental health professionals from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) identify three categories of common, but serious Post Traumatic Stress Reactions people affected by trauma may experience:  intrusive reactions, avoidance and withdrawal reactions, physical arousal reactions. An intrusive reaction refers to how the traumatic experience may return to mind even when not intended or wanted. These thoughts are often triggered by reminders of the event and can be accompanied by fears that it will occur again. Avoidance and withdrawal reactions include avoiding people, places, and things that serve as reminders of the traumatic experience. People experiencing this reaction may also feel emotionally numb and detached from others. Last, physical arousal reactions may include sleep difficulties, irritability, nervousness, and hypervigilance. Children, adolescents, and families experiencing these reactions for a prolonged period of time or experiencing functional impairments as a result of these reactions may choose to seek out professional help.

Many licensed mental health professionals such as counselors, therapists, social workers, and psychologists are trained to provide education, guidance, and treatment,  if needed, to help families heal from the impacts of traumatic experiences. The American Psychological Association is one professional organization providing helpful tips to parents and caregivers on how to talk to their children about shootings like the one that occurred in Newtown. 

If you or your child has been affected by trauma, consider that the Counseling Service Program at Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston provides trauma informed services to individual, couples, families, and children. Call 713.874.6590 for more information.

Sources:

“Helping your children manage distress in the aftermath of a shooting.” The American Psychological Association
National Child Traumatic Stress Network

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