When Adverse Experience Helps

On 14th February the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, fell victim to a mass shooting in which 17 people died and another 17 were injured.

Those who were traumatised by the event were immediately encouraged by the Broward County Schools group to speak to counsellors, especially students and members of their families.

A student is comforted on the way into schoolA student being comforted (Photo: Andrea Melendez/The News-Press)

But Nancy Teitelbaum, of the Goodman Jewish Family Services of Broward County, commented that “Most counsellors, teachers and clinicians have never dealt with a mass shooting. They have no frame of reference.”

Thus it was that ten days after the shooting, just a few days before the school was due to reopen, experts from the Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC) arrived in the community. They went with the objective of guiding teachers and community leaders through a ‘day after’ strategy for helping people to face the future.

As part of the attack, the gunman set off the school fire alarms. So Israeli clinical psychologist Yotam Dagan had become concerned about the way the students would react the next time the school holds a fire drill, saying:

“If it’s just done without any early preparation or warning, the sound of the bell
is going to reactivate the traumatic response …
There are going to be meltdowns. There are going to be panic attacks.”

Explaining their trip from Israel, Yotam’s colleague, Alan Cohen said,

“It’s not as if Israel knows anything America doesn’t. But we have a
lot more practical experience in putting them into a coherent program.”

Thus, sadly, it seems that experience of extreme adverse events can sometimes be helpful – when others need help to cope with extreme adversity that has overtaken them.

ITC’s video provides an excellent explanation of what they do.