My husband, Kyle, and I spent yesterday in Smithville, MS, which was announced today as being the third city in the United States to be hit by an EF5 tornado since the scale was revised in 2007. Kyle is a reporter for Mississippi’s The Clarion-Ledger, so he went to Smithville for an assignment. I tagged along with him because I knew his media credentials would let me into the disaster site. I wanted to go because one of the classes I took this past semester was Crisis Intervention Counseling. I theoretically learned about and discussed how to handle a variety of crisis situations, so I wanted to experience a real scenario. Kyle has reported on tornados before, so while driving to Smithville, he kept mentally preparing me for what I would see. The ironic thing about his desire to mentally prepare me is afterward we realized that viewing the devastation emotionally affected him more than it affected me. One question my husband asked while walking around the devastation was, “Why?” I responded, “I don’t know, babe. But, it does.” We heard some incredible stories. (You can read his coverage here: http://www.clarionledger.com/article/20110429/NEWS/104290350/Devastation-reigns-storm-slams-into-Smithville?odyssey=mod|defcon|text|Home and http://www.clarionledger.com/article/20110428/NEWS/110428017/Storm-ravaged-Smithville-We-re-going-rebound-?odyssey=mod|defcon|text|Home) I observed several things during my time in Smithville. First, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs must be kept in mind when working at a crisis site. Smithville residents lost everything. Therefore, they were starting at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid. They needed food, water, sleep, clothing, and shelter before dealing with their safety, emotional, and self-actualization needs. Second, along with the town’s devastation came hope. Smithville is a small community, and everyone who shared his/her story with me said he/she was thankful to be part of a small community. It’s a lot easier to garner personal and other resources when everyone knows everyone else. Their determination to rebound reminded me that he who has a why to live can bear almost any how. After returning home to Oxford, we went out for dinner and used that time to recap the events of the day and had an incredible discussion about what it means to overcome. Kyle commented on the loss and pain Smithville experienced, and I said, “Yes, but they’ll overcome.” I finished my last semester of coursework for graduate school last week, and one of the most important things that I learned during my time at Mississippi State is what it means to be human. As humans we experience devastation, heartache, loss, depression, and a multitude of other things, but our resilience is what allows us to overcome personal and social heartache. However, the most important aspect of overcoming is HOW we overcome. During our conversation, Kyle made an excellent point when he said that just by living through the tornado, Smithville residents overcame. He then asked, “What if those survivors turn to alcohol? Is that still considered overcoming?” Great question. I believe that’s where counselors enter the picture. Yes, a survivor who leans on alcohol to deal with his/her emotions has overcome, but our role as counselors is to provide them with healthier options and methods of overcoming. That task is what constitutes our work’s challenges and joys.
Courtnay Veazey is a graduate student at Mississippi State University pursuing a Master of Science in clinical mental health counseling and working as a graduate assistant at MSU's Career Center