Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) first became a diagnosis in 1980 after psychoanalysts Chaim Shatan and Robert J. Lifton lobbied the American Psychiatric Association to create a new term to describe the cluster of symptoms they and fellow clinicians were observing among clients related to overwhelming impacts from experiencing traumatic incident(s).
As they made their observations in previous years, simultaneously, sociologist Kai Erikson (1978) was documenting how a technological disaster, resulting in a catastrophic flood in Buffalo Creek, WV, devastated an entire community. Erikson noted how medical and psychological diagnoses at that point did not adequately articulate what these people experienced, which led him to consider a new concept he called disaster syndrome, and eventually to coin the term collective trauma.
According to Erikson (2005), disaster syndrome consists of the following symptoms:
Erikson observed how collective trauma worked “its way slowly and even insidiously into the awareness of those who suffer from it,” (Erikson, 2005, p. 154). He eventually came to define it as "a blow to the basic tissues of social life that damages the bonds attaching people together and impairs the prevailing sense of communality. Collective trauma may result from a sudden, shocking event, or emerge as a gradual realization that the community no longer exists as an effective source of support and that an important part of the [group identity] has disappeared . . . ‘we’ no longer exist as a connected pair or as linked cells in a larger communal body," (Erikson, 1994, p. 233).
Collective Trauma, or Disaster Syndrome, is not simply a sum of many individual experiences of trauma, but involves people individually impacted by trauma who also have a shared sense of losing what they had in common. What they had in common may be their family life, their work, their neighborhood, their faith community, their school, or their community group.
Being a leader among a group that has experienced a severe collective loss involves additional responsibilities than existed prior to what happened. Helping to navigate your group through the rough terrain of response and, potentially, rebuilding, involves particular skills, including:
None of these are easy. They take a long approach to recovery, rather than quick fixes. And they require steady nourishment along the way – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
We encourage you to browse this website for further information on how to navigate long-term recovery if you are in the midst of collective trauma response. If you would like to explore more with a staff member, reach out. We'd be glad to hear from you!
When we work with organizations, whether it's in the aftermath of an internal crisis, such as the sudden loss of a leader due to death or an act of betrayal, or an external crisis, such as a natural disaster or mass attack, at some point we often talk about the Phases of Disaster chart. Forms of this chart first began being published and utilized in the early 2000s (for example, Meyers and Wee, 2005). It is based on anecdotal evidence of common themes that many communities report experience following a singular event of community disaster.
We find it helpful to continue using, even as many communities face multiple disasters in short succession, or a series of events that leave a group feeling like they have been through a larger disaster, or even in times of a global pandemic, because it repeatedly helps participants to find language for what they are experiencing. Even, and perhaps especially, when they feel like the chart in some way does not represent their experience.
...it repeatedly helps participants to find language for what they are experiencing. Even, and perhaps especially, when they feel like the chart in some way does not represent their experience.
For example, presently, we are hearing from many groups about how the traditional "hero" phase feels like a much sharper and lengthier incline right now. There is so much business, so much need, so much to react and respond to, so much information to take in that it does not feel like just a few weeks, but that it is continuing to go on, or is going on in a very bumpy way, as many people also feel sharp moments of fatigue as they strive to take in new information again and again.
many people also feel sharp moments of fatigue as they strive to take in new information again and again
How would you depict how you or your people are reacting? Consider making it an exercise for your staff. In doing so, you likely will find ways to help support one another or to refer one another to additional resources in the community. If you need assistance identifying additional forms of support, reach out. We'd be glad to hear from you!
In the past, we've talked about how talk-therapy, importantly, is not the only answer to processing adversity. The many other practices of processing stress remain just as key as they ever have been, including:
However, in days of physical distancing during a pandemic, finding creative means for community storytelling, or community or family memorial-making, comes to the forefront. Concurrently, the need to verbally express what has been happening also comes to the forefront. Not only is this because talking, in general, can be helpful, but also because having our experiences witnessed by a caring person helps to generate metabolizing and agency hormones that counter our "fight or flight" and stress hormones.
Thus, in times when we cannot physically be together, it is important – especially for behavioral health practitioners – to facilitate and host ways for expressing what's been happening. As most people have far fewer opportunities for natural verbal processing through common public interactions, telehealth is helping to solve that gap. Significantly, telehealth does not have to be only formal therapy. For example, in some communities, volunteers are mobilizing to make casual "check-in" calls. These volunteers may be part of faith-communities, counseling centers, or other types of social service agencies or neighborhood collectives. In Santa Barbara, CA, for example, participants and partners of the Community Wellness Team, including Hospice of Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Response Network, and many congregations, are providing this type of service.
Is your community providing this type of assistance? Share how in the comments below.
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Thank you for your generosity!
You've likely seen the memes on social media platforms:
Even just in that brief, and hardly exhaustive list, you can see the stark differences made clear. For some, this season is a major inconvenience worth laughing about – genuinely. For others, within their lifetime they have never before experienced such continuous and overwhelming levels of trauma day after day.
At some point – and all at different points – the people in your organizations and groups will come into proximity (if not already) with the various groups along this spectrum from inconvenience to trauma. Between the poles lies those who are indirectly, yet still significantly impacted, by the virus – those who are losing their jobs, are grieving alone, are experiencing forms of physical or sexual abuse as they "shelter" at home.
It will be important as an organizational leader, for you to consider where your staff and constituents fall on this spectrum in the weeks and months of living and working from home. Is your organization an appropriate place for disclosing personal impact? If not, do you or your leadership have practices in place for referring your people to helpful resources?
Consider where your staff and constituents fall on this spectrum in the weeks and months of living and working from home.
If you are looking for assistance in helping your people find resources and making helpful referrals, reach out to us. We'd be glad to hear from you and provide you with assistance, including developing referral inventories that work well for your context.
If your organization works in areas of behavioral health, in what ways are you preparing for assisting people in your community with coming back together again once stay-at-home ordinances lift? This can be done through trauma-informed education, helping your constituents understand the ways people grieve and process trauma differently, and understanding how there can be concentric circles of impact.
For some, this season is a major inconvenience worth laughing about – genuinely.
Of course, in any society, there always exist different subsets of groups. Even so, during and after a pandemic, new subsets can emerge and their differences can be more stark than many people have previously experienced. As a leader, it is good to consider the ways you are preparing and supporting your constituents for what may come.
Other Resources for understanding trauma, pacing, and sustaining long-term care:
As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, many of us have found our daily routines turned upside down. Rhythms and relationships are changing faster than many of us feel we can keep up. Institutions that we relied on are no longer available, or at least not in the same way. We are all adjusting to this new normal.
My family’s experience of all this has been a somewhat uncommon one. My partner has been working from home for almost 25 years. I’ve been working from home in various jobs for about 16. Almost 8 years ago we began alternatively educating our four children. So our family was already accustomed to being home, together, a lot. We, too, are missing classes, meetings, and time with friends and extended family right now, but our days in the house have not been stressful or filled with conflict.
I remember when they were though. I remember the days of staring at my husband, my favorite person in the world, and thinking, “How are we ever going to manage spending this much time together!?” And I’m an extrovert! Similarly, as years went by and children were added to our ranks, there were angst-filled seasons of trying to meet everyone’s needs, mediate conflicts, and maintain some semblance of adult sanity. Transitions are often grating. We feel irritated and sensitive, raw. But those feelings can and do pass. So I hope by sharing with you some of what is not only working for us now, but has been working consistently for a long time, that you may find some easier ways to create a new rhythm in your house. That you will be able to adjust relatively quickly instead of stumbling in the dark for years like we did.
It requires a great deal of courage to acknowledge the realities of the grief we are facing.
So I hope by sharing with you some of what is not only working for us now, but has been working consistently for a long time, that you may find some easier ways to create a new rhythm in your house. That you will be able to adjust relatively quickly instead of stumbling in the dark for years like we did.
In the coming weeks, community care needs will escalate exponentially as COVID-19 impacts continue to increase. Here are some ways you or your team can prepare:
Creating a Trajectory Map
Use the Phases of Disaster as a starting place, and begin to draft a trajectory map for your organization or community. You can share your maps on twitter, facebook, instagram, or linked in, using hashtag #carerestores.
As you're creating your map, consider the differences your organization or community are experiencing compared with traditional understandings of episodic or singular incident disasters. For example, many groups are finding their sense of the initial "hero" stage has been a far sharper incline or spike, as leaders and volunteers have rushed in this last week to solve as much as they can and now, even within just a week or two, are experiencing significant senses of fatigue. The fatigue appears to be related to a combination of the strong push to help along with the remarkable speed at which new information is released, often changing and becoming out-dated even hour by hour.
Continue to use your map as a draft or living document with your team, a template that you can update over the coming weeks and months.
Recognize the Range of Impact
Over the next several weeks and months, your clients, patients, or community members, will experience a range of impacts. Some of these will be directly COVID-19 related. For example:
Some of the impacts will be indirectly related to COVID-19. For example:
Pacing Care for Sustainability
As you consider what needs already are present and what may be coming, in what ways can you and your staff pace and nourish yourselves now so that you can avoid burnout and provide sustainable care through the long-term?
Here are some helpful resources for understanding trauma, pacing, and sustaining long-term care:
One of the most challenging aspects to accept when responding to a disaster is how long term recovery differs from other forms of stress. Unfortunately, response to a pandemic also significantly differs from other forms of long term recovery, let alone other forms of stress.
One of the major differences from other types of disasters is that a pandemic simultaneously effects to great degree numerous communities at once. Other types of disasters (i.e., tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, or mass attacks, for example) instead may effect one or a few communities at once.
There can be positive aspects to the broad scope of pandemic impacts. For example, many people appreciate how we're all in this together, no matter what county, state, or even country you may be located. If you call a family member or coworker in another region, likely you have similar experiences to discuss.
That said, the level of impact can feel overwhelming to many people. Here are some important practices to keep in mind as you proceed through stages of impact by pandemic:
Pace and Nourish Yourself and the People Around You as You Go
This cannot be emphasized enough. The road ahead is a long one. There will be many needs to address, well beyond issues of quarantine and physical distancing. You will have greater ability to adapt and respond to what comes if you pace your response, do not over function, and incorporate healthy daily practices. You cannot solve the pandemic in a day, a week, or even a month.
As you consider pacing and nourishing yourself and the people around you, in your homes, work, or neighborhood, consider what you have been putting off in the last few days since beginning to realize the gravity of the pandemic spread. Dinners with family or housemates? Smiling at people in your household or in your neighborhood on a regular basis? Taking time to move around, or to take a mental break from focusing on response to think about or enjoy something else for a little while? How many days will you be putting these things off? This week? Several weeks? The demands are not going to lift any time soon. And if you continue to put these important nourishing practices on hold, you inadvertently will prepare yourself for burnout.
Gather Your Resources
What or who helps you personally and professionally? If you do not already know, now is a good time to figure this out, as you will need to draw on these practices, forms of support, or people throughout the weeks ahead. Having a current referral list is very helpful. There may also be certain supplies you regularly need in the weeks ahead. Take time to consider what those are and identify ways of obtaining them, if possible and necessary.
Remember, A Step at a Time
Rather than focusing on the big picture, many people who survive, and even thrive, beyond significant adversity, reflect on how they did it by focusing on what they or the people around them needed next, more than everything that was needed. By focusing on the next step, gradually you create a step-by-step pathway forward.
You can do this! And, your efforts are contagious. Thank you for the tremendous difference you are making.
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In a recent conference call for faith-based leaders, I referenced a term I've used in many settings to describe the process of assimilating or moving through the affects of challenge we can experience in small or large ways throughout our daily living: metabolizing adversity.
When I use this term, I am referring to the range of activities that have been proven to help a body process stress hormones.
We experience stress hormones on a daily basis. They are not only related to crises or disasters. If we do not establish habits in our lives that help us regularly decrease those elevations by increasing our hormones related to self-agency and self-care, we are more likely to eventually develop diseases, including potentially heart disease, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, or cancer, as well as potential disorders, including high rates of anxiety, depression, or suicidal ideations.
How best can you develop daily habits that help you metabolize adversity you experience?
Sleep, regular movement, healthy meals and snacks, drinking water, interacting with people you care about and who care about you, and practicing your faith, are all ways proven to help you metabolizing stress or adversity you encounter.
You can practice these, and you can encourage the people in your households, work environments, and neighborhoods to practice them too.
Help sustain online education by making a financial contribution today or becoming a monthly donor. Thank you for your generosity!
This post, written by Kate Wiebe, originally was published on the ICTG blog.
As ICTG donors, volunteers, and staff, have researched and explored most effective pathways for healing and thriving beyond adversity, we have found one essential practice for getting "prepared": practicing how you want to be in an emergency. You can have all the flip charts, exit strategies, and "stop, drop, & roll" mantras you want, but if you are prone to freezing, dissociating, or freaking out, you (and your group) won't be able to follow your well-laid plans and procedures. While it is important for everyone to consider the type of person they hope to be in an emergency, it is especially key for leaders of schools, businesses, nonprofits, and congregations to consider. Their leadership largely determines how their group will proceed, and the essence of their leadership is contagious.
Here are a few tips for becoming the person you hope to be in an emergency. Take some time to answer the following the questions:
1. If an emergency, crisis, or disaster occurs, how do you see it best unfolding? For example, perhaps you hope your staff and constituents all have the information they need to make wise and quick choices. Or, your staff and constituents know and have access to the right contact person. Or, your staff and constituents know how to be in touch with one another and determine if everyone is out of harm's way.
2. As you consider emergencies, crises, or disasters in the past, in terms of your organization at that time, what do you wish had gone better? Were key people absent or unavailable? Was it hard to communicate with one another, and if so, why? Was there misinformation, rumors, or other forms of frustration that inhibited help and care from happening?
3. As you think of those past events, and what you wish may have gone better, recall your mind, body, and spirit in those hours and days. Become mindful of what you felt like. What did your muscles feel like? Were your thoughts racing or flowing with ease? Were you irritable? Irrational? Or easy to talk with? Did you feel nourished or fueled along the way, or did you find yourself realizing it had been hours since you had used a restroom, eaten, drank water, or slept?
4. Right now, today, how are you practicing care for your mind, body, and spirit? This practice is most helpful if you are honest with yourself. For example, try drawing a Venn diagram. On the left side, write out what practices you, personally, find help you make it through. Not necessarily the things you should or ought to do. But the things that actually make you feel better, even just a little bit. Then, on the right side list the things that contribute to your long term health. These may or may not be the same things. Whenever they are the same things, put those things in the middle overlapping section. You may find that the things that help you feel some relief during crises are not necessarily things that contribute to your health long term. You also may find the left side more empty than the right side. That's ok for right now. Right now, it's best to be honest and get your real practices out in front of you.
5. If you found that the left side of your Venn diagram is more empty than the right side, or you found that not much overlap exists between the left and right sides of your diagram, take some time now to consider one or two practices from the right side that you feel you could practice today. For example, here are some things that people often put on the right side that you may choose from:
These are just some of many examples of daily or weekly practices that contribute to a person's long term health. While not all, many of these practices can go on regardless of external circumstances and even during days of responding to crises or disasters. Many people find that continuing these practices through times of emergency help them to re-member themselves or the group to which they belong, especially after feeling temporarily fragmented.
6. In terms of leadership, what do you hope to model for your staff or constituents during times of emergency? If you hope to provide steady leadership that can withstand extreme pressures, what does that mean to you? What is the character of that leadership? What does it look like, specifically? Compare your answers to these questions to your answers to #2 and #3. Are there expressions of leadership that you can be practicing more today?
During the height of an emergency, people often draw upon their muscle and involuntary memories before having access to their rational training. That is why it can be most helpful to practice being the kind of person you hope to be in an emergency in, what we at ICTG refer to as, "times of peace." Those times when you are not "amped up," "clenched," "freaking out," or "stressed." Perhaps, you are in circumstances which feel constantly stressful and unending. In those cases, you may have to be more intentional about carving out space to begin practicing the care you hope to extend to yourself and those around you.
Your presence, as a leader, is contagious. We encourage you to take time to consider the presence you are offering to others, especially in times of upheaval. If you would like help doing so, please do not hesitate to reach out for more information. We'd be glad to hear from you.
Meanwhile, share your best tips in the comments below. What's worked well for you and your group?
It's been said that tornadoes are like a giant knife coming through a community, leaving one side of a street pristine, while the other side is demolished. Tornadoes can remove the entire front facade of a home, while leaving the rest of the structure intact – as if it were a giant dolls house. It is not uncommon to find survivors gazing at paths of destruction, reaching out for miles, almost in awe of all that has happened – so quickly, so particularly, so difficult to process.
Like any disaster, the heartache that unfurls in the aftermath does not discriminate. It can cross every socioeconomic and cultural boundary. Still, those who already were vulnerable, can be especially hard put by the damage and repercussions.
In the first days and weeks of responding to a tornado, there are important things to keep in mind for community care and resiliency:
If your organization is looking for additional resources for how to respond to tornado damage in the days and weeks ahead, we encourage you to explore the training materials we offer online or to reach out for a personal consultation. We are glad to hear from you!
Expanding understanding and best practices for leadership and whole-community care.