Counselors steer those affected by shootings to healing, growth
By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON - Men and women who help survivors of a tragedy such as the July 20 shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., are often called “grief counselors” but should more accurately be described as “crisis responders.”
That’s the view of Will Marling, executive director for the National Organization for Victim Assistance, based in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Va.
Those who trained in this area respond to specific protocol, he said.
The National Organization for Victim Assistance currently has teams at work in Aurora. According to Marling, their primary goal is to help people understand that their reactions - often a broad range including anger, sadness and remorse - are normal.
“We help people confront trauma and get through it on their own,” he told Catholic News Service July 27, adding that most everyone in a such situation will have a “post-traumatic stress reaction, but not everyone will develop a post-traumatic stress disorder, which prevents them from living life.”
Responders work with those who were at the scene when the shooting occurred, family members who may have been on the phone with a loved one when it happened, or someone who lost a friend or relative in the incident or was nearby when it occurred.
Marling said responders primarily listen to what these people have gone through, affirm what they’re feeling and then help them to predict and prepare for what they will feel down the road.
And that’s where Regina Caeli Clinical Services, a community-based psychology ministry of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Denver is ready to step in.
Kathryn Benes, the ministry’s director, said the program was not immediately getting calls from those directly impacted by the Aurora shooting, because they were still meeting with crisis responders or were busy caring for the injured or making funeral arrangements. She said she expected those calls to happen in weeks, months or even years from now.
In the meantime, the archdiocesan group, formed just last year, was getting calls from many who already felt vulnerable; the Aurora theater shooting re-ignited fears and emotions from the 1999 shooting at Colorado’s Columbine High School, experiences in recent wars, Hurricane Katrina or 9/11.
A major part of the group’s outreach, Benes said, is to incorporate a spiritual component to healing, especially since traumatic events often lead people to question: “How could God allow this?”
Mary Beth Werdel, an assistant professor of pastoral care and counseling at Jesuit run Fordham University in New York and co-author of the 2012 book “Primer on Posttraumatic Growth: An Introduction and Guide,” said spirituality is a key factor in helping people not only to cope with a traumatic event but to also move beyond it and find new life.
She said it is key for pastoral counselors to “believe in the possibility of growth” and help clients hold onto that even if they go through a particularly hard time and turn from God initially.
In the midst of the “darkness and debris” of trauma, “spirituality helps us climb above the wreckage,” she added.
Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops