How does a victim acclimate back to life after a trauma?
Transitioning back to a normal daily routine after a major trauma is not easy and varies from victim to victim. Many variables come into play depending on severity, age, support, and how effected the individual was. We must be careful not to clump groups together assuming all victims handle the scenario the same way. We must be cognizant of reactions and clear stress induced reactions from external stimuli. These can take the form of any event that effects our senses. Even smells can rekindle horrific memories from the time of the trauma. The physiologic connection between sensory stimuli at the time of the trauma and memory has been well measured and documented. Sexually abused victims can have a reaction formation years later from smelling the same cologne that their perpetrator was wearing to auditory triggers from songs and noises. In the Sandy Hook atrocity, these children will experience some varying degrees of a grossly uncomfortable transition. Imagine sitting in the classroom of the same school and a car outside backfires. The memories of having their peers and educators killed will clearly impact their daily routine.
To transition from this horrific traumatic event one must incorporate professional support, volunteers in each classroom to be prepared to handle spontaneous reactions of fear, uncertainty, and feelings of vulnerability. These are children, not adults and their defensive, protective walls are not yet formulated to say the least. To transition one must slowly learn to put the past behind them. Learn to focus on the present. Implement a plan to be prepared for “fallout symptoms” and how one can handle those when they occur. It is important that a trained therapist predict these symptoms with the child and family. There is reassurance knowing they might occur, and as well have a treatment intervention ready to implement. There is literally no difference from this preparation then having a plan for symptomatic reactions after any trauma and preparing for a thunderstorm or survival situation. This metaphor is beneficial as it helps the child to understand this event is like an unpredictable thunderstorm to our emotions or to our memory. They also must learn they can prepare for it, which helps empower them and allows them to feel thye can handle it. As a thunderstorm can down branches, cause power outages and become scary, one can prepare. The same is true with a severe life trauma. The problem is that most of us who go through a life trauma do not implement preventative interventions.
Should one return to the scene of the trauma or ignore it completely?
In the Sandy Hook trauma there is a debate on whether the children should return to the school where the shootings took place or move to a different location. Ideally this would be better answered if we knew the current symptoms of these children. Symptoms will help us with severity of the impact and we must understand it effects everyone differently. One child may of been closer to some of the deceased, one child may have a more profound peer and family support than another. This is important as there is nothing cut and dry in these scenarios. Ideally the transition should be slow. The transition, if slow would be approached very much like treating a severe phobia.
Ideally in this scenario it may be very beneficial NOT to return to the same school. This point could easily be argued from a psychological standpoint as in not rescuing the child and teaching the child they can overcome such a horrific incident. That statement sounds good in written text; however, it only works if implemented with safe guards. In both scenarios; staying at the same school or transitioning to a new location there must be forethought and proper implementation. One should not overestimate the child’s ability to overcome nor underestimate their coping mechanisms. Each child will have different reactions and different abilities to cope. Sensitivity to individuality is key, while being excessively supportive to not just the children but the educators and the families.