Most of the time, when I am passing by the George Bush Drive and Wellborn Road intersection in College Station, TX, I am on my way to the fitness center I joined last month. I am thinking about how I will get through an hour of painful Zumba. From now on, whether I want to or not, I will be thinking about the deaths that occurred there on August 13, 2012.
It’s the third senseless shooting in as many weeks. Whether by design or by accident, these kinds of shootings leave you wondering, “Am I safe anywhere?” And as counselors, when these things happen in the world, we start hearing these kinds of questions in our sessions:
“How could anyone do this?”
“Can you trust anyone?”
“Can you ever know a person?”
“What do I tell my kids?”
If it happens not just in the world at large, but in your community, you are likely to see something change in the nature of your sessions. Whatever your clients were dealing with before, you may start to see them additionally developing panic attacks, agoraphobic-like behavior, and having post-traumatic reactions.
That's why it's so important that when something like this happens in your community, you as a counselor must to find a way to respond sensitively to these changes. An event as significant as the College Station shooting will find its’ way into the consciousness of the clients you see. They might start wondering if people like the shooter (at the time of this writing reportedly a 35-year-old mentally ill male) live near them and might cause them harm. They might withdraw from close relationships to insulate themselves against potential losses like those suffered by the families of those killed. However it plays out, it is likely that it will somehow impact their thinking and their behavior, which will impact your therapy. The degree to which the person is affected depends on their connection to the incident, their individual personality, and the objective magnitude of the disaster.
You might be thinking this is not a new thought to you - we've all studied reactions to trauma. That’s true. But there’s one key difference here, when a disaster like this happens in your community.
It’s your community.
Along with your clients, you’re also feeling the same fears, worries, and insecurity. The Texas A & M shooting happened less than 5 minutes from my home. The media gathered at a local high school less than a block from where I live, and some of the victims were taken to a hospital right by where I work. I don't know Constable Bachmann, but I work closely with many people who do know him, some well. This event is literally “closer to home” than I’ve ever experienced in my work.
That's why I'm so grateful I have a strong support system in my family and work colleagues, as well as the many counseling professionals I am fortunate to know online. While at this moment I don't anticipate a point in which I could not continue my work due to this particular circumstance, the case could have been much different. Thankfully, if that ever happens, I have many people around me to help me continue counseling others if I do get bogged down by the simple proximity of my person to this or any other local tragedy.
What about you?
Have you answered the question what you will do that will enable yourself to continue to heal others if their pain is happening to you, too?
Stephanie Ann Adams is a counselor who believes in the ability of the mind to understand and change behaviors, and in each person’s power to create the life they want. She helps clients and counselors start something new every day at Beginnings Counseling & Consulting, www.stephanieadamslpc.com.