9/11 Second-Hand Shock Still an Issue a Decade Later.

Carol Tosone is an associate professor of social work at NYU. Carol lived and worked through the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack and has become very interested in Second-Hand Shock. She shared in an interview that she is still “spooked” by the sound of airplanes since that tragic day.

Carol was curious if other social workers and mental health providers who treated 9/11 victims shared her experience of vicarious trauma, so she polled 500 helping professionals who worked in Midtown and Lower Manhattan during the attacks. She found that many of our heroes are still suffering. Her survey is an empirical testimony that many helping professionals share trauma with the people they are treating.

Tosone’s survey is being replicated in New Orleans among clinicians who counseled flood survivors. These clinical studies will help prepare social workers and other helping professionals who work in disasters and other traumatic situations to recognize and treat their own natural trauma responses. “We need to refortify clinicians,” said Tosone, who is also a member of the National Association of Social Workers.

Can you imagine that helping professionals are still suffering trauma responses a decade after the 9/11 tragedy? That certainly speaks to how insidious the effects of vicarious trauma can be! It also demonstrates a saddening lack of compassion and absence of resources for our heroes. Probably these heroes have been suffering with all types of unpleasant symptoms and they may have attributed these symptoms to other causes as a result of public apathy to their plight.

The symptoms of vicarious trauma or Second-Hand Shock run parallel with Post Traumatic Stress disorder and include:

  • negative emotions;
  • frequently feeling “on edge”;
  • existential upset that includes a negative world-view;
  • disruption in memory
  • intrusive imagery, including nightmares or recurring visualizations;
  • emotional numbing;
  • inability to tolerate strong emotions or hypersensitivity to emotionally charged content, such as seen in movies or television;
  • feeling anxious or worried for family members;
  • avoidance or “checking out” from the traumatic experience;
  • physical illnesses;
  • isolation and loss of ability to enjoy meaningful activities; and,
  • feelings of incompetence.

It is imperative for our heroes to be given the time and space to debrief and regroup after suffering Second-Hand Shock. The Rapid Advance Process is an effective technique that helps the helper to move out of the flight or fight reaction and back into their higher thinking which promotes a sense of inner peace and well-being.

I find it to be ironic that many helping professionals work so diligently to reduce the stigma around maintaining mental health, yet they may be falling prey to the same faulty thinking when it comes to their own welfare. It is long overdue for us to normalize the concept that helpers are negatively affected by listening to trauma content stories while they control their empathic responses. As we work together to raise public awareness, we build a safe environment for our heroes to seek the relief they so greatly deserve. I thank Carol Tosone for her work and her dedication to the helping professions.

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