is from a new booklet prepared and distributed last week by Penn's
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
to provide assistance to the campus community in dealing with the
Trauma, Loss & Disasters
to Expect After a Traumatic Event or Disaster
or traumatic events can affect all of us. They are dramatic and
intense experiences that can cause major interruptions in the natural
flow of life. Knowing the kinds of feelings and reactions that may
occur following such events can assist in putting feelings in perspective
and can help you make the transition from victim to survivor.
emotional effects of these events may show up immediately or they
may appear weeks, even months later. The signs and symptoms of emotional
aftershock may last a few days, a few weeks, or a few months and
occasionally longer. Sometimes, the traumatic event is so painful
that professional assistance from a counselor may be necessary.
This does not imply insanity or weakness, but rather, that the particular
event was just too powerful for the person to manage alone.
Reactions to Stressful or Traumatic Situations
is very common and quite normal to experience reactions after passing
through a horrible event. Some reactions are emotional, some are
physical and some cognitive thought processes. The following are
common emotional and cognitive reactions:
- shock hopelessness
- anger numbness
- self-pity inability
- disbelief grief
- preoccupation sadness
- panic desire
to avoid situation
- tearfulness feeling
- stunned irritability
- confusion self-blame
- fatigue fear
- nightmares loneliness
- remorse flashbacks
- isolation relationship
problems difficulty concentrating
people tend to express their reactions through physical symptoms
- aches and
and a Sense of Loss
traumatized by events or disasters often experience a pervasive
sense of loss:
of feeling safe, loss of friends, loss of hope, loss of personal
power, loss of identity/future, loss of trust in others,
loss of home/belongings.
is a normal and natural response to loss and anyone can experience
grief and loss. Individual reactions to grief and loss can very
widely, and the same person may experience different reactions to
a sense of loss over time.
from Trauma, Loss and Disasters
and accepting the natural responses described above represents an
important part of the recovery process. Try to remember: You are
having a normal reaction to an abnormal event! Here are some additional
tips for dealing with your reactions:
openly about your feelings and symptoms
- pay attention
to healthy diet
in physical activity
contact with friends and supports
safety measures to be taken in the future
- try deep
breathing and other relaxation techniques
- be aware
of numbing the pain with overuse of drugs and alcohol
as normal a schedule as possible
- keep a
- do things
that feel good to you
- don't make
any big life changes
Family Members and Friends
it is difficult to know what to do or say to somebody who has just
survived a traumatic event. Supporting a person following such an
event can be stressful for the helper. In general, it is important
to be available to the survivor and to let the person know that
you care. Spending time with the traumatized person is also a basic,
but important way to help.
your assistance and a listening ear if they have not asked for help.
Talking is the most healing medicine. Try to be patient if the person
tells the same story over and over again; this is normal and can
also be healing.
are some more suggestions for helping:
- help them
with everyday tasks like cleaning, cooking, caring for the family
helping with the children
- give them
some private time
- don't take
their anger or other feelings personally
- don't minimize
- avoid giving
clichés or easy answers
- don't tell
them that they are "lucky" (that it could be worse, that they
have another daughter, etc.) traumatized people do not feel consoled
by these types of statements
- be patient
- avoid judgmental
- avoid telling
them how they feel
- help them
find and utilize outside resources (books, support groups, professionals,
government aid, workshops, other friends)
our quest to help the survivors, we must not forget that we cannot
take care of others if we are not taking care of ourselves. You
may need the opportunity to express your emotions and to turn to
other friends or family members for support.
Problems Persist or if You Have Questions about Your Reactions
these or other symptoms persist, increase in number or degree of
severity to the point of interfering with personal functioning and/or
are subjectively distressing, professional counseling or joining
a support group may be helpful. If you are not sure whether you
would benefit from additional assistance, it is better to consult
a mental health professional than to do nothing or to guess.
can help you address and understand your feelings, help you identify
normal reactions to crisis situations, and help you look at how
your life and relationships have been impacted. It can also help
you learn stress management techniques and sharpen your coping skills.
groups can help you feel less isolated since group members share
similar experiences. Group members can often support and understand
each other in special ways because of their common experiences.
They share information about recovery and special ways of coping.
support in general can help you feel like a survivor rather than
like a victim.
from "Surviving Trauma,"
University Counseling Services, Philadelphia, PA
Jeffrey Mitchell's "Model of Critical Incident Stress Debriefing"
and Psychological Services
and Psychological Services offers a wide range of confidential services
to Penn students including individual, couples, and group counseling/therapy,
crisis intervention, structured workshops, career and psychological
testing, and consultation. Brochures and workshop flyers are available
at the office and at various locations on campus. Appointments can
be made by phone at (215) 898-7021 or in person. A counselor is
available weekdays for emergency consultation for faculty, staff
or parents who are concerned about a student.
and Psychological Services is open Monday -Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
In case of emergencies, walk-in services are available during office
hours and off hours (including weekends) call the hospital operator
at the UPHS (215) 349-5490 and ask to speak to the CAPS counselor
C. Rosenstein, Director, CAPS
Almanac, Vol. 48, No. 4, September 18, 2001