National Tragedy and Self-Care - Gordon Conwell

National Tragedy and Self-Care

Dr. Jacqueline Dyer

Director, MA in Counseling Program, Boston Campus

When Santa Fe High School students and teachers went to school last Friday, they had no inclination of the devastation awaiting them. A student armed with a shotgun and a pistol went to the school and opened fire on an art class. He murdered 10 people—8 students and 2 teachers—and wounded at least 10 others.

The details and motivations of the attack are now beginning to emerge. With them, reporters tell and retell the story and victim reports with increasing specificity and with a frequency that can traumatize, or add to the trauma of some listeners. The unintended result is that these knowledgeable sources may fail to help the broader community as it struggles both to know “Why?” and to feel some possible restoration of their shattered sense of safety.

Those affected by trauma may experience shock, numbness, anger, fear, anxiety, grief and loss, irritability, and/or a sense of “unreality.” The younger the person affected by the event, the more likely it is that behavioral issues will manifest (e.g., aggression, hyperactivity or changes in attention). Tragedy can also provoke a crisis of faith. When the “why?” is not easily answered, some may begin to question if God is truly just. Unanswered “whys” turn into questions about God’s goodness and power. Extreme distress and crises of faith may lead to suicidal thoughts.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but includes examples of the range of responses we, or those close to us, may experience after a traumatizing event like this. In fact, these reactions may appear whether we are directly or peripherally involved. In the aftermath of tragedy and in spite of the never-ending news stories, it becomes important to consider how to take care of ourselves. Here are just a few ideas that can get us moving in a healthier direction:

  1. Turn off the news. Once you feel you have learned what you need to know for the moment, step away from the news cycle. When you’ve had time to process the information, you may again be ready for new updates.
  2. Get moving. Engage in your favorite form of physical activity to clear your mind and vent your emotions. Physical activity like walking, running or cycling, releases natural chemicals in the body that increase our sense of well-being.
  3. Reach out to family and friends. Staying connected can reduce or eliminate our sense of isolation when dealing with devastation. An important variation of this is staying connected to our faith communities. Among fellow believers, we might find answers to questions—answers we cannot find on our own, and the Bible encourages us to remain connected.
  4. Pray. Prayer is not mentioned last because it gets done after everything else. Rather, we remember best the last thing we saw, read or heard; so including prayer last may give it the strongest echo in our memories. Of all the relationships that keep us grounded, prayer keeps us connected to the one who can take our anger, tears, worries and more. Over time, our prayerful encounters with God can help us find the restoration we need in our attempts to return to life after the tragedy.

Dr. Jacqueline T. Dyer is Assistant Professor of Counseling, Director of Counseling and Academic Support Initiatives and teaches at the seminary’s Boston Campus. She holds a Ph.D. from the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work, and an M.A in Urban Ministry Leadership from Gordon-Conwell. She formerly was Assistant Professor and Field Coordinator at Eastern Nazarene College, and an Adjunct Professor at Simmons, Salem State and Wheelock Colleges of Social Work. She has served in clinical and supervisory positions at Family Intervention Team, Abundant Life Counseling Center, Roxbury Preparatory and Edward Brooke Charter Schools, Cambridge Public Schools and Massachusetts Behavioral Health Partnership. In addition, she is on the leadership team for Clergy Women United of the Black Ministerial Alliance.

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