The surviving victims of disaster scenes can carry hidden wounds that only surface with time. Now that the initial shock of the World Trade Center collapse has passed, some local psychological counselors are concerned about the after-effects of September 11th on individuals - and on the nation as a whole. 90.3 WCPN's David C. Barnett prepared this report.
David Liebling- I was seeing a patient when someone told me it happened. So I turned on the TV set in time to see the second plane hit the other tower.
David C. Barnett- Cleveland psychiatrist David Liebling's work usually centers on treating the psychological wounds of war at the Stokes Veterans Administration Medical Center. But the images he's seen played and replayed on television recently look very familiar, and he expects to see local trauma symptoms resulting from exposure to the media coverage of last week's terrorist attacks.
DL- This is a very different kind of trauma, a very different kind of stress than our country has had to face. For the people who set out to do this, their goal is traumatization of the nation not just a local event.
DCB- One of the risks of our well-connected media age is the rapid exposure of millions of people to disaster scenes. The Oklahoma City bombing quickly became a national event six years ago as pictures of the gutted Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building blazed across the country. Bay Village cleric Thomas Madden was there in a matter of days. A former resident of Oklahoma City, Rev. Madden is Pastoral Counselor at Bay Presbyterian Church. He responded immediately to the call for help, and the emotional intensity he found was overwhelming.
Thomas Madden- A lot of fear. Quite a bit of anger. People with a lot of uncertainty about their safety. "Who had done this?" A lot of questions about why. Of course, there is no answer to the why.
DCB- Rev. Madden says his immediate job was to help people process their feelings and thoughts.
TM- You do it by a lot of listening. Asking questions about what they are thinking, what's going on. Look for disruptions in their sleep or eating habits.
DCB- He adds that bystanders aren't the only victims at a disaster site. The emotional traumas of rescue workers and police are easy to overlook. In recent years, Tom Madden has also done counseling work for the FBI.
TM- They have colleagues who are missing... they see the body parts... they are there trying to put the plane back together. And that work can leave you with some significant mental stress.
DCB- Cleveland psychologist Vesna Kutlesic says that intense disaster scenes like the World Trade Center can also have dramatic effects on the people doing the counseling.
Vesna Kutlesic- It was interesting to me that my colleagues who are actually in the mental health profession also had the initial response to retaliate, to strike back at the terrorists in an aggressive manner. I think we all have a feeling of powerlessness when there is a bombing on our soil.
DCB- Kutlesic has seen that up-close in her work locally with refugees from the complex ethnic battlefield of Yugoslavia.
VK- Some have experienced multiple displacements - for instance, one family was displaced from war conditions in Croatia to Kosovo. Then the Kosovo situation broke out and they were displaced here, and now they're experiencing that sort of thing here.
DL- If the individual has already been traumatized, it's not a good idea to watch those images over and over again.
DCB- Given the media saturation in this country, psychiatrist David Liebling thinks it's important for everyone to take stock of themselves and family members. For people who are having trouble sleeping, who have recurring dreams about last week's disaster, he recommends seeking professional help, even if it's just talking with a counselor at a community health center. Better to take the precaution now, than to suffer some long-term consequences down the line.
DL- The thing that I'm most worried about at this point is how this will affect the atmosphere of the country. Up until now, we've been blessed with a kind of security others don't have. I would hope that we can regain some of that sense of security that has been lost. I think that's going to take some time.
DCB- In Cleveland, David C. Barnett, 90.3 WCPN News.